The length of this species is 76-89 cm, with a weight from 43-75 kg. The coloration is brown with yellow or red spots on the carapace. The plastron is yellow, the postanal scales are yellow with black spots, the head is brown with yellow jaws and the flippers are brown on top, yellow below. The flippers have 2 claws, and the head is small with 2 pairs of prefrontal scales. Juveniles are black with the edge of the shell yellow. This species does not breed in Virginia waters. The incubation period is estimated to be 60 days and nesting occurs every 2 to 3 years, but more than once a season, at 2 week intervals. The clutch size is 150 to 160 eggs. Little other reliable data are available. This species will nest on small islets and isolated mainland shores. The female may clamber over reefs, rocks or rubble to nest among the roots of trees and bushes on the chosen beach. This species feeds on the bottom and close to shore. This turtle closes its eyes when eating the Portuguese man-of-war (to avoid the tentacles), which makes it an easy catch for hunters. They nest on sandy tropical beaches, and mating is just off shore from these. Migrations are poorly known but they probably nest at least twice during a given season at Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica then return to the foraging grounds.
Hawksbill turtles are marine, never entering freshwater. No nests are known or expected on Virginia. beaches. This species is generally found in water less than 20 meters deep.
This species consumes invertebrates, with the major food item the sponge, Geodia gibberosa. It also consumes jellyfish and marine plants.