Flatback turtles measure approximately 90 cm as adults and can be distinguished by their flattened carapace. They are olive grey and have four costal scutes with thick, overlapping carapace scales. Females are larger than males and have a shorter tail.
Can be Confused With
Flatbacks can be distinguished by their flattened shells.
Flatback turtles are tropical, found only in the coastal waters surrounding Australia. Their range extends from northern Western Australia to Mon Repos, Queensland. They are rarely found in the open sea.
Ecology and Behavior
Nesting peaks in November and December, with mating occurring in the waters surrounding nesting beaches. The flatback may be the only sea turtle that does not have an early pelagic stage; hatchlings probably stay within tens or hundreds of kilometers of natal beaches, where they inhabit protected coastal areas.
Feeding and Prey
Flatback turtles are carnivorous with diets dominated by invertebrates, feeding in shallow, turbid inshore waters between five and twenty meters in depth. Their diet is poorly documented, but is known to include sea cucumbers, prawns, jellyfish, sea pens, soft corals, mollusks, bryozoans, and other invertebrates. The diet of hatchlings remains unknown.
Adult flatbacks seize their prey species, which include Janthina sp. and Porpina sp.
Threats and Status
The main threats for flatbacks include harvest of eggs and fisheries bycatch. The flatback turtle is listed as “data deficient” by the IUCN; there is not enough information regarding the species to categorize its conservation status. The Australian government considers the species “vulnerable”, and has protected it with the exception of aboriginal harvest. The limited range of the flatback makes it vulnerable to catastrophic events. The flesh of the flatback is not palatable, but the eggs are collected as food. This species’ nesting beaches are very isolated, affording the flatback some natural protection.