, Volume 29, Issue 3, p 759

Hawksbill turtles as significant predators on hard coral

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Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), originally thought to be almost exclusively spongivorous (Meylan 1988), were later found to have a more diverse diet, feeding in the wild on sessile invertebrates such as sponges, zooanthids, soft corals, corallimorphs, ascidians and mobile invertebrates (Leon and Bjorndal 2002). We report here hawksbill predation on live tissue of a hard coral, the bubble coral Physogyra lichtensteinii (Milne Edwards and Haime 1851). This coral has a soft blistery coenosteum with large exsert septa, it is fleshy with vesicles expanded during the day, and it secretes a large amount of mucus, prefers deeper reef slopes and is usually at low densities though can be locally abundant.

On the north shore of Aldabra atoll, P. lichtensteinii is the dominant coral between 20 and 35 m depth, at over 50% cover (Fig. 1a). In March 2008, noting a high frequency of fresh and old lesions on P. lichtensteinii (Fig. 1b, c), we observed an adult hawksbill, sex undetermined, fe