Category of Organisms Marine Reptiles
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum/Division Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Testudines
Family Cheloniidae
Genus Eretmochelys
Species imbricata
Binomial Name
Eretmochelys imbricata
Author Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name Hawksbill Turtle
Local Name Penyu Karah or Penyu Sisik
Size Range
Shell length: 70-90 cm [3]
Adult hawksbill turtles are primarily found in tropical coral reefs. They are usually seen resting in caves and ledges in and around these reefs, throughout the day. As a highly migratory species, they have also been encountered in a wide range of habitats, from the open ocean to lagoons and even mangrove swamps in estuaries. While much is not known about the habitat preferences of early-life stage E. imbricata, like other sea turtles' young, they are assumed to be completely pelagic and thus make the open sea their home until they mature. [1]
Play an important role in the economy as a tourist attraction. Although it is illegal to hunt them, in some parts of the world, hawksbill turtles are taken and eaten as a delicacy. Many cultures also use the turtles' shells for personal implements such as decoration and jewellery.
The hawksbill is known to feed on the dangerous jellyfish-like hydrozoan, the Portuguese Man o' War (Physalia physalis). Hawksbills close their unprotected eyes when they feed on these cnidarians, for Man o' War's stinging cells cannot penetrate the turtles' armoured heads.

Eretmochelys imbricata have shown themselves to be highly resilient and resistant to their prey. Some of the sponges known to be eaten by hawksbills, such as Aaptos aaptos, Chondrilla nucula, Tethya actinia, Spheciospongia vesparum and Suberites domuncula, are highly (often lethally) toxic to other organisms. In addition, hawksbills are known to choose sponge species that have a significant amount of siliceous spicules, such as Ancorina, Geodia, Ecionemia and Placospongia. [1]
Endemic No
Found in Marine Park No
Found in Malaysia Yes
The second most common species found in Malaysia. Generally, all states in Malaysia have recorded landings with the exception of Perlis,  Pulau Pinang, Selangor and Kelantan. The highest concentration of these turtles is in Melaka. [2]
Adult hawksbill turtle can grow up to 70-90 cm in carapace length and weigh from 35 to 75 kg. [2] The turtle's shell, or carapace, has an amber background patterned with an irregular combination of light and dark streaks, with predominantly black and mottled brown colors radiating to the sides. Eretmochelys imbricata has a depressed body form and flipper-like limbs adapted for swimming.

The hawksbill turtle has several characteristics that distinguish it from other, closely-related species. Its elongated, tapered head ends in a beak-like mouth (from which its common name is derived), its beak more sharply pronounced and hooked than other sea turtles. The hawksbill's arms have two visible claws on each flipper.

One of the hawksbill's more-easily distinguished characteristics is the pattern of the thick scutes that make up its carapace. While its carapace has five central scutes and four pairs of lateral scutes like several members of the same family, E. imbricata's posterior scutes overlap in such a way as to give the rear margin of its carapace a serrated look, similar to the edge of a saw or a steak knife. The turtle's carapace itself has been known to reach almost a meter in length. [1]
While they are known to be omnivorous, the principal food of hawkbill turtles is sponges. However like many spongivores, E. imbricata feed only on a few select species, and will ignore many others. Aside from sponges, hawksbills also feed on algae and cnidarians like jellyfish and sea anemones. [1]

On the West Coast of the Peninsular, nesting occurs from January to December (peak season: April-June) whilst on the east coast, nesting takes place from January to September (peak season: March-May). Females may nest several times each season, producing between 70 to 160 eggs per nest. [2]
In 1996, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified Eretmochelys imbricata as critically endangered. Its status as an endangered species was challenged prior to this, with two petitions claiming that the turtle (along with three other species) had several significant stable populations worldwide. These petitions were rejected by the IUCN based on their analysis of data submitted by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG). The data given by the MTSG showed that the worldwide population of hawksbill turtles had been reduced by 80% in the last three of the species' generations, and that was no significant increase in the turtles' populations as of 1996. In light of this data, the IUCN applied the critically endangered (A1) status upon the species. CR A2 status was denied however, because the IUCN believed that there was insufficient data to show that the population of hawksbill turtles is due to decrease by a further 80% in the future.

Historically, Eretmochelys imbricata was first listed as endangered by the IUCN in 1982. This endangered status continued all the way through several reassessments in 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1994 until it was upgraded in status to critically endangered in 1996. [1]
Status in IUCN Red List Critically Endangered (CR)
Status in CITES Species Database I
1. Hawksbill turtle. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2007, from

2. Abdul Salam, M.N. and Sharma, D.S.K. (1999). Integrated Coastal and Estuarine Area Management. Handbook 4: Marine Turtles & Terrapins. Kuala Lumpur: WWF Malaysia

3. Ong, J.E. and Gong, W.K. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Malaysia. Vol 6: The Seas. Kuala Lumpur: Archipelago Press

4. Chua, T. E. and Charles, J.K. (1980). Coastal Resources of East Coast Peninsular Malaysia: An Assessment in Relation to Potential Oil Spills. Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia
Other Link(s)
Collection Record
Eretmochelys imbricata