The flatback turtle is named for the relative flatness of its shell, one of the characteristics that distinguish it among the 7 species of turtles known worldwide. The flatback is a lesser-known species of sea turtle, perhaps because unlike other turtles they do not migrate long distances. They have the smallest geographic range of any turtles and they are the only species that does not visit the Americas. In fact, flatbacks are only found in the shallow coastal waters (typically less than 60 meters/197 feet) around Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Although flatbacks are found feeding in Papua New Guinea, they nest even more exclusively. Flatbacks only nest in Northern Australia, returning to the same beaches on which they were born to lay eggs of their own – and we are extremely fortunate that this very special species nests right here in Pilbara between November and April!
Here are some more intriguing facts about Flatback sea turtles….
Appearance & Size: Flatback shells are wide with turned-up edges, covered by a thin fleshy skin. The colour is usually yellow-grey or olive-grey, with the underside a pale yellow. Flatback turtles grow to be 80 to 95 cm (31 to 37 inches) long and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).
Feeding: Like most turtle species, flatbacks are foraging predators, with adults eating a variety of soft-bodied prey, including jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and other invertebrates.
Nesting: Flatback turtles spend most of their time in the water with females only coming to shore to lay eggs (Australia only). After mating out at sea, females will visit a sandy beach several times during the course of the nesting season, dig a burrow, and lay approximately 50 eggs each time (far less eggs per clutch than other sea turtle species)
Juveniles: After hatching, young flatbacks emerge from the sand and enter the water together guided by the moonlight. These hatchlings tend to stay closer to shore as they mature into adults.
Threats: The most significant predation pressure on flatback turtles occurs when the eggs and hatchlings are still on the beach. During that time, a variety of seabirds, terrestrial mammals, and other predators reduce the turtle’s numbers drastically. Saltwater crocodiles, sharks, and large bony fishes are the primary natural predators of flatback turtles after they enter the water.
Conservation Status: There is not enough data to assess whether or not this species is at risk of extinction, but the Australian government considers the species to be vulnerable. As is the case with other sea turtles, the predominant threats facing flatback turtles include accidental capture in fisheries targeting other species, degradation of nesting beaches, the collection of eggs and meat, and a low survival rate for eggs and hatchlings.
Are you ready for your next dive trip?
Come and join us in the Pilbara between November and April and you might just catch a glimpse of a flatback turtle while you are here!
Have you dived in the Dampier Archipelago? This stunning marine region offers incredible marine life sightings from dolphins and manta rays through to passing whales – and of course, flatback turtles.
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