Eretmochelys imbricata, Hawksbill turtle, halting on ground and releasing air from lungs, Indo ... / ©: Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon

Marine turtles

For more than 100 million years, marine turtles have covered vast distances across the world’s oceans, and have been an integral part of tropical coastal ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners.

Australian marine turtles


Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle occur in Australian waters, including the:

flatback turtle (Natator depressus)
green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

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Tropical island and Acropora Coral reef. Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef. / ©: Gary Bell / OceanwideImages.com
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Marine turtles facts

  • Common name

    Marine turtles ; Tortues marines (Fr); Tortugas marinas (Sp)

  • Scientific name

    Cheloniidae / Dermochelyidae families

  • Habitat

    Open water and coasts

  • Status

    IUCN: from Data Deficient, Vulnerable, Endangered to Critically Endangered

Only a few large nesting populations of the green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles remain in the world. Australia has some of the largest marine turtle nesting areas in the Indo-Pacific region and has the only nesting populations of the flatback turtle. 1

Raine Island, in the northern Great Barrier Reef, is home to the world’s largest green turtle rookery, with an annual nesting population of 30,000 females. 2

In the southern Great Barrier Reef, a separate genetically distinct group of green turtles favours nesting sites in the Capricorn/Bunker group of islands, where annual populations are estimated at 8,000 females.

Loggerhead turtles breed and nest mainly in the southern Great Barrier Reef (Capricorn/Bunker group) and adjacent mainland near Bundaberg. These nesting beaches support the only significant population of the species in the South Pacific Ocean. However, numbers have declined since the 1970s from about 1,000 breeding females to a few hundred females and any increase in mortality poses a risk of extinction. 2

1. http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/species/turtles/index.html
2. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/key_issues/conservation/natural_values/marine_turtles/marine_turtle_species_descriptions

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) laying eggs on beach, Lady Elliott Island, Queensland, Australia. / ©: Staffan Widstrand / WWF
Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) laying eggs on beach, Lady Elliott Island, Queensland, Australia.
© Staffan Widstrand / WWF

Our past olive ridley's tracking program

In the week of 19 April 2004, after five olive ridley's (Milika, Kitirayuwu, Milly, Jika and Mel) finished laying their eggs, transmitters were attached to their shells in preparation for their departure into the unknown.

Read more on our past program on turtle conservation (archived)