6 Types of Sea Turtles in Australia

Australia’s waters are rich with diverse marine life, including six distinct types of sea turtles. This article will explore the characteristics, habitats, and conservation status of these marine species. Each possesses unique attributes and plays a significant role in Australia’s marine ecosystems.

What are the Marine Turtles Found in Australia?

Australia is home to six distinct species of marine turtles. These include the Flatback Turtle (Natator depressus), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), and Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).

Each of these species is unique in terms of its physical attributes, dietary preferences, nesting behaviors, and habitat preferences. Notably, Australia’s diverse coastal and marine ecosystems offer suitable habitats for these turtle species, contributing to their survival and propagation.

However, they also face numerous threats, necessitating comprehensive conservation efforts to protect and preserve them.

flatback turtle

1. Flatback Turtle (Natator Depressus)

The Flatback Turtle, scientifically known as Natator Depressus, is a unique type of sea turtle found exclusively in the Australian continental shelf. This turtle species is distinguished by its flattened, rather than domed shell, from which it derives its common name.

The adult Flatback can reach up to 90cm in carapace length and generally have a low-domed, broadly oval carapace. This turtle’s range is primarily coastal, extending to offshore reefs. Unlike many other sea turtle species, the Flatback’s diet primarily consists of soft-bodied invertebrates such as sea cucumbers.

Nowhere in its distributional range does it leave Australia’s waters, making it an endemic resident of the country.


green sea turtle

2. Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas)

The Green Turtle (Chelonia Mydas) is a large sea turtle found abundantly in the warm coastal waters of Australia. Recognizable by its smooth, streamlined shell tinted a distinctive olive-green, it’s named not for the shell’s coloration but rather for the color of its fat, a result of the turtle’s herbivorous diet consisting largely of seagrasses and algae.

Adult green turtles are unique among sea turtles as they primarily feed on seagrass, contributing significantly to the health of seagrass beds. Apart from its high-domed carapace, this type of Australian marine turtle is also characterized by a small head and paddle-like flippers, perfectly adapted for a life at sea.


hawksbill turtle

3. Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys Imbricata)

The Hawksbill Turtle is one of the six marine turtle species found in Australian waters. Its scientific name, Eretmochelys Imbricata, reflects its distinct look: a pointed beak and a beautifully patterned shell. Growing up to a meter in length and weighing around 80 kilograms, these turtles are known for their preference for tropical waters.

They inhabit coral reefs off the Australian coast where they make a significant contribution by maintaining the health of the coral ecosystems. Unlike other sea turtles, Hawksbills feed primarily on sponges, playing a vital role in controlling sponge populations, thereby sustaining the biodiversity of the marine habitats. Their existence is crucial, yet they are critically endangered due to numerous threats.


leatherback sea turtle

4. Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea)

The Leatherback Turtle, scientific name Dermochelys Coriacea, is the largest sea turtle species found in Australian waters. As the name suggests, this turtle is defined by its leathery shell, rather than a hard shell as seen in other turtle species. Sea creatures like jellyfish make up the majority of their diet.

They are known for their migratory ability, traveling over great distances, from breeding regions in the tropics to feeding areas in the temperate zones. Leatherbacks tend to frequent the cooler waters of southern Australia but are not common nesters in the region.

These mystifying creatures are listed as vulnerable on the Australian Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


loggerhead sea turtle

5. Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta Caretta)

The Loggerhead Turtle, scientifically known as Caretta caretta, is one of the six main species of marine turtles found in Australian waters. Characterized by their large heads and reddish-brown carapace, Loggerheads tend to inhabit open ocean and coastal waters. They are omnivorous, feeding on a varied diet that includes molluscs, crustaceans, jellyfish, and occasionally seagrass.

Loggerheads are also known to travel great distances between their feeding areas and nesting sites, which are predominantly located in Queensland. Unfortunately, this species is currently listed as endangered, facing significant threats from human activities such as fishing and habitat degradation.


olive ridley sea turtle

6. Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys Olivacea)

Olive Ridley Turtles, scientifically known as Lepidochelys Olivacea, are one of the smaller species among sea turtles and are found in Australian waters. They have a uniquely heart-shaped and olive-colored carapace earning them their name. Although their sightings in Australia are less frequent, these turtles are believed to dwell in the tropical regions of the northern parts of Australia.

Olive Ridley turtles are omnivores and their diet mainly consists of jellyfish, crustaceans, small fish, and algae. They are known for their unique mass nesting behavior called “arribada,” where thousands of females come ashore together to nest. Their vulnerable status underlines the importance of conservation efforts being undertaken in Australia.


How Do the Nesting Behaviors of the Different Australian Marine Turtles Vary?

Marine turtles have distinct nesting behaviors. Flatback Turtles favor sandy beaches for depositing eggs, typically laying 50 eggs at a time. Green Turtles prefer remote islands and coastal dunes, laying around 100 to 150 eggs. Hawksbill Turtles often nest among vegetation near the beach, depositing 60 to 160 eggs.

Leatherback Turtles, the most nomadic, are known to voyage great distances to nest, laying up to 100 eggs. Loggerhead Turtles also utilize sand dunes and beaches and lay an average of 100 eggs. Lastly, Olive Ridley Turtles are known for mass synchronized nestings, or “arribadas,” when thousands of females come ashore to lay eggs, leaving approximately 100 eggs each nest.

What Are the Main Threats Faced by Marine Turtles in Australia and What Conservation Efforts Are in Place to Protect Them?

Marine turtles in Australia face multiple threats, primarily due to human activities. These threats include pollution, loss of habitat, illegal poaching, and by-catch in fishing gear. Climate change, causing altered weather patterns and rising sea levels, also exacerbates these threats. In response to these issues, Australia has initiated numerous conservation efforts.

The Australian government has laws outlawing poaching and harassment of marine turtles and strict regulations on fishing practices. Several non-profit organizations are working to rehabilitate injured turtles and protect nesting sites. Further, there are ongoing initiatives to educate the public on the importance of these extraordinary creatures and the need to protect them.

How Do the Diets of the Different Marine Turtles Impact the Australian Marine Ecosystem?

Each of the six marine turtles in Australia has a unique diet, which greatly influences the Australian marine ecosystem. The Flatback turtle, for instance, feasts primarily on invertebrates like sea cucumbers, jellyfish, and shrimp which enhances the biodiversity by consuming dominant species.

The Green turtle, a herbivore, maintains the seagrass beds. Hawksbill turtles, known for eating sponges, help corals to grow by reducing the competition for space. Leatherback turtles predominantly consume jellyfish, controlling their population.

Loggerhead turtles consume mollusks, crustaceans, and fish, while Olive Ridley turtles generally feed on small invertebrates and algae – both impacting the food chain. The intricate dietary habits of these turtles contribute to the balance and health of Australia’s marine ecosystem.

How Do Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels Affect Marine Turtle Populations in Australia?

Climate change poses a significant threat to the Australian marine turtles. Rising sea levels encroach nesting beaches, eroding the available space for nesting. It can also flood existing nests, causing egg loss. Additionally, since the sex of turtle hatchlings is temperature-dependent, the rising temperatures are skewing sex ratios towards females.

This imbalance threatens the long-term survival of these species. Furthermore, increased storms and sea temperatures can disrupt their migratory patterns and food availability. Climate change thus prompts an intricate and multifaceted challenge for the survival of the six types of marine turtles in Australia.

What are the Traditional and Cultural Connections Between Indigenous Australian Communities and Marine Turtles?

Marine turtles have profound significance in the cultural and traditional aspects of Indigenous Australian communities. They feature prominently in their spiritual beliefs, customs, and lore, often represented in indigenous art, rituals, and storytelling.

Turtles are revered as totems and their presence is appreciated as an indicator of the health of the marine ecosystem. Also, they form an essential part of their diet and economy, with shell pieces often used for making jewelry and tools.

The indigenous community’s deep-rooted connection to and intimate knowledge about turtles contribute to conservation efforts, although challenges remain in balancing cultural practices with the needs of endangered turtle species.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...