Name: Flatback Sea Turtles
Average Weight: 200 pounds
Average Size: 3 feet
Lifespan in the Wild: 100 years
IUCN Status: Data Deficient
Population: It is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 21,000 nesting females. It is worth noting that these estimates are based on nesting beach monitoring reports and publications. IUCN has deemed that their isn't enough data available so they are listed as Data Deficient, the Australian Commonwealth’s Endangered Species Protection Act have them listed as Vulnerable.
General Information: As you can probably guess, these turtles get their names from the flatness of its shell. Researchers had initially thought that the Flatback sea turtle was just a type of Green Sea Turtle, however in 1988 they were recognised as a completely separate species.
| Photo by Lyndie Malan [CC BY-SA 3.0]
These sea turtles are thought to enjoy a variety of different food including sea cucumbers, shrimps, soft corals, jellyfish, crabs, molluscs, small fish and seaweed.
Nesting Behaviours & Reproduction:
Flatback sea turtles reach sexual maturity between 7 and 50 years old. Similarly to most other species of sea turtles they mate out at sea and will make their way onto their nesting beaches. They nest between November and December and will typically nest 4 times in a season, however unlike other sea turtle species flatbacks will only lay around 50 eggs in each clutch, though the eggs they lay are larger than other sea turtle eggs measuring around 51 mm each.
Hatchlings will emerge after around 55 days and they are larger than most other sea turtle hatchlings. They will immediately make their way to the ocean and will actually remain closer to shore as they mature.
| Photo from @mintakamck_ on Instagram
Habitat & Range:
The flatback sea turtle has a much smaller range than other sea turtles. In fact they have the smallest geographic range of all 7 species of sea turtles. They remain in tropical regions of the continental shelf and coastal waters of Northern Australia, Southern Indonesia, and Southern Papua New Guinea. They do not undertake any long migrations and prefer turbid (cloudy) inshore and coastal waters, coral reefs and grassy shallows.
| Photo by @shannondiblasio on Instagram
Threats To The Species:
Though flatback sea turtles are listed as data deficient on IUCN's Red List, they are considered vulnerable by the Australian Government and face a number of different threats and risks from Human Activity as well as natural predators. Adult flatback turtles are preyed upon by saltwater crocodiles and sharks, they used to be at risk from attack from dingos and foxes, but thanks to predator control theses threats have been greatly reduced. Hatchlings are picked off by sand monitor lizards, wild pigs, gulls, night herons, crabs and pelicans.
The biggest risk to flatbacks is becoming a victim of bycatch in fishing nets. Because sea turtles need to come to the surface to breath, getting caught and trapped in fishing gear can often result in drowning.
Hunted for Meat & Harvesting Eggs:
Another threat to flatback sea turtles is the direct harvesting of their eggs and hunting for their meat.
Unfortunately many nesting beaches are affected by pollution, which leads to higher mortality rates for flatback sea turtle hatchlings as well as nesting female turtles.