Flatback sea turtle
Natator depressus
Physical description
Binomial nameNatator depressus
Conservational Status
IUCN statusDD
Scientific classification
SpeciesN. depressus
Garman, 1880

The flatback sea turtle (Natator depressus) is a sea turtle that is endemic to the continental shelf of Australia. Flatback turtles belong to the Cheloniidae, or sea turtle, superfamily and are the only species found in the genus Natator.

Taxonomy and etymologyEdit

This species is within a monotypic genus, Natator, in the Cheloniidae family; the name means "swimmer," in Latin. Depressus, the species indicator (the second part of the scientific name) means "flat" in Latin. It refers to the flatness of the Flatback's shell. The Bardi people called this animal barwanjan, and it was known to the Wunambil as madumal.[1]

Range and habitatEdit

Map showing four nesting sites, spread across Australia's Northeast coast

Natator depressa distribution map. Red circles show major nesting sites.

Flatback turtles are usually found in bays, shallow, grassy waters, coral reefs, estuaries and lagoons on the northern coast of Australia and off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

The species may feed off Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but it nests only in Australia. Nesting occurs across the top half of Australia, from Exmouth in Western Australia to Mon Repos Conservation Park in Queensland. The most significant breeding site is Crab Island in the western Torres Strait. Breeding may also occur on the islands of the southern Great Barrier Reef, and on mainland beaches and offshore islands north of Gladstone.


The carapace of the adult is on average Template:Convert long. It is low domed, the edge is upturned and has four pairs of costal scales—fewer than other marine turtles. The upper parts are an olive-grey, while it is more pale ventrally. A single pair of scales are located at the front of the head, which also distinguish this species.[1]

Life historyEdit


The Flatback turtle is unusual because it lays fewer but larger eggs than other sea turtle species. Like other species, its females emerge onto the beach on which they hatched more than 30 years before and make their way up the beach to lay their eggs.

Male turtles never return to shore, since mating occurs at sea, taking around 1.5 hours. The female digs a pit using her front flippers to clear away the topmost layer of dry sand. She then uses her rear flippers to dig a small egg chamber. After laying a clutch of between 50 and 75 eggs she covers them first with her hind flippers, and then flings sand back with her front flippers. Females lay eggs every 16-17 days during the nesting season—totaling 1-4 nests. They nest only every 2-3 years. There are around 54 eggs in each clutch, and the rookeries are usually small.[1]

These eggs are vulnerable to predation by dingoes, sand goannas (Varanus gouldii) and an introduced pest species—the fox. An altered ecology at known nesting sites, such as Port Hedland, has disturbed breeding behavior. Adult specimens are also found in the nets of fishing trawlers, and are still consumed by indigenous peoples across its range.[1]

Flatback hatchling

A flatback turtle hatchling crawls to sea


Flatback hatchlings are the largest of any turtle. Hatching is the most dangerous time for flatbacks. Guided by the low, open horizon, newborns dash for the sea. Only safety in numbers protects them from birds and crabs. However, even the sea is not safe. Sharks and fish patrol shallow waters, waiting to prey upon hatchlings. Scientists estimate only 1 of 100 turtles live to become an adult.Template:Fact However, once these turtles become adults there are very few organisms that predate them. Its survivorship curve is known as Type III because hatchlings endure high mortality rates, while adults thrive.



The Flatback turtle eats a variety of organisms such as seagrass, marine invertebrates including mollusks, jellyfish and shrimp and also fishes. It also consumes of soft coral, sea cucumbers and other soft-bodied creatures.[1]


The species is considered vulnerable to extinction in Western Australia,[1] but the Red list of the IUCN regards it as data deficient and unable to be correctly assessed.[2]

The Australian flatbacks in the northwest of Kimberley face immediate threats from industrial development and need the world's attention.[3]


External linksEdit

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