Flatback turtle

Natator depressus.

Flatback turtle

The conservation status of the flatback turtle, Natator depressus is:

  • Nature Conservation Act 1992: Vulnerable
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999: Vulnerable
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: not listed.

General information

Known as Australia's turtle, the flatback turtle's distribution is confined virtually to the Australian continental shelf and it nests only on Australian beaches. Unlike the other six species of sea turtle the flatback lacks an oceanic phase in its lifecycle. In the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Arafura Sea they are regular inhabitants of shallow turbid waters and bays. On Queensland's east coast they occupy the waters between the Great Barrier Reef and the mainland.

The flatback turtle is carnivorous, feeding on a wide range of jellyfish, molluscs, sea cucumbers, shrimp and other marine invertebrates.

Flatback females will normally nest every 2 to 3 years and lay 2 to 4 clutches about 16 days apart in each season. Proportional to its body size the flatback turtle produces the biggest of all the sea turtle eggs. On average 54 eggs are laid per clutch but the egg weighs around 77g, which is similar to the leatherback egg (compared to only about 22g in Australian loggerheads). When the hatchlings emerge from the nest they weigh around 42g, around double the size of a loggerhead hatchling.

Although the flatback turtle is well protected by the Australian government, it is still at risk through modification of its nesting habitat in some areas and getting caught in prawn trawls, including ghost nets.

Further reading

Environment Protection Agency

Gulko, D & Eckert, K, 2004, Sea Turtles: An ecological guide, Mutual Publishing, USA Spotila, James A, 2004, Sea Turtles: A complete guide to their behaviour, biology and conservation, The Johns Hopkins University Press, USA.