The flatback turtle (Natator depressus)

The flatback turtle has the smallest geographical range of all seven species of sea turtle.  It is found only in the coastal waters around Northern Australia and parts of Papua New Guinea. 

Flatback turtle, Natator depressus, laying eggs, northern Australia. Image copyright Colin Munro Photography
A large, female flatback turtle hauls herself up across a remote beach in the Kimberley Region of Northern Australia.

The name comes from its smooth, relatively flat carapace, which is covered by a soft fleshy skin. The plates (known as scutes) of the shell are thinner than those of other turtles.

Adult flatbacks are quite big. They average around 90kg, but a large female may reach around 300kg.  They are believed to reach maturity between 7 and 50 years of age. After mating, females will drag themselves ashore on sandy beaches, to lay their eggs at the top of the beach, above the high tide mark.  The young also quite large when they hatch, the shell length averaging 60mm. This may help protect them from predators in their dash to the sea and in shallow water. There are relatively few scientific studies on flatback turtles, compared to, say, green or hawksbill turtles, partly due to their restricted range and the relative remoteness of much of their range. One reason for this restricted range might be that flatback turtles do not appear to undertake the same, wide-ranging, open-ocean travels that many other sea turtle species do. It seems they spend their entire lives in shallow coastal waters.

Flatback turtle image
copyright colinmunrophotography
A female flatback turtle rests momentarily as she hauls herself ashore to lay eggs. The flashing tissue covering her shell, with the distinctive yellow margin, can be clearly seen.

Flatbacks are fairly omnivorous, feeding on seagrass, marine algae, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, soft corals, crabs and fish.  Juvenile flatbacks are predated on by sea eagles, adults will be taken by sharks and crocodiles.

This relatively large female was photographed as she emerged from the sea and hauled herself up a remote beach in the Kimberley region of Northern Australia.

A short clip of a female flatback turtle hauling herself up a beach to lay her eggs
Flat back turtle laying eggs. natator depressus, laying eggs, Northern Australia, turtle laying eggs. Copyright Colin Munro Photography
At the top of the beach, the flatback turtle digs a shallow pit, spins around and then deposits her eggs. We will then push sand and dead grass back on top of the eggs to conceal them before making her way back down the beach.

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