Rare Florida Sea Turtle Found In Indian River Lagoon

A critically-endangered hawksbill sea turtle, which is the rarest sea turtle to inhabit Florida, was discovered by researchers from the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group in the Indian River Lagoon near Sebastian Inlet.

The hawksbill sea turtle’s decorative shell helps to camouflage it among floating Sargassum seaweed mats.

Yearling hawksbill caught in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017. Credit: Kate Mansfield
Yearling hawksbill caught in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017. Credit: Kate Mansfield

UCF researchers discovered the hawksbill sea turtle in the Indian River Lagoon in May when massive amounts of Sargassum seaweed were washing ashore along Brevard County beaches.

But the same shell that helps to protect the hawksbill from natural predators also led to its exploitation by man.

The hawksbill’s shell pattern is the most common “tortoiseshell” product used for decoration since ancient Egypt.

It is the second hawksbill ever to be discovered by UCF researchers in the Indian River Lagoon since the group began turtle surveillance in 1982.

Hawksbill sea turtles are mostly found in the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, parts of South Florida, Central America and northern South America.

The University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group has made other rare sea turtle finds in Brevard County in recent years.

In 2017, the group discovered a rare two-headed loggerhead sea turtle on Brevard County beaches.

In 2016, researchers discovered a rare hybrid sea turtle in Port Canaveral that was a result of inter-species mating between a green sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle.