Green turtle - Chelonia mydas gliding through the sea


Queensland is home to both marine and freshwater turtles. Find out about their unique features, how they nest and where you can find them!


Marine turtles
Six of the world’s seven marine turtle species occur in Australian waters (Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas; Loggerhead Turtle, Caretta caretta; Flatback Turtle, Natator depressus; Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata; Olive Ridley, Lepidochelys olivacea, Leatherback Turtle, Dermochelys coriacea). They have distinctive paddle-shaped limbs and, in this regard, differ from almost all Australian freshwater turtles.

Marine turtles spend most of their lives at sea, but females must come ashore to lay their eggs. Multiple clutches of 80 to 130 eggs are laid during a nesting season, depending on the species.

As adults, Leatherback Turtles live in the open ocean. The other species have inshore, feeding grounds where they spend most of their lives. Every few years, adult females migrate to their nesting beaches which can be more than 1,000 kilometres from their feeding grounds. Most turtle nesting occurs during the summer months but there is some year- round nesting in northern Australia.

As adults, marine turtles return to nest in the region where their mothers nested. Hatchling Loggerhead Turtles in eastern Australia are carried by ocean currents to the coast of South America. They return to eastern Australia after ~16 years but don’t mature until they are ~ 30 years old.

Freshwater turtles
Freshwater turtles are commonly seen in most Queensland waterways. There are 14 native species (and several subspecies) recognised from Queensland, all belonging to the family Chelidae.

There are two basic body forms, the short-necked turtles (Elseya spp., Elusor macrurus, Emydura spp., Rheodytes leukops and Wollumbinia spp.) and the long-necked turtles (Chelodina spp.), which have extremely long, snake-like necks.

Unlike the marine turtles and many foreign freshwater turtles, the Australian chelids fold their necks side-ways under the protective edge of the shell (pleurodirous). They have clawed, webbed feet and most species have distinct barbels on the chin.

Like marine turtles, freshwater turtles leave the water to lay their eggs.

Common questions

The Leatherback Turtle is the largest species; adults usually grow 1.8 to 2.2 metres and weigh between 250 and 700 kilograms. The largest specimen recorded was a male that washed ashore in Wales, 23 September 1988. It measured 2.91 metres and weighed 961.1 kilograms.

Different species have different diets: All marine turtles will eat some jellyfish, but Leatherback Turtles are exclusive jellyfish feeders. Green Turtles are herbivores, eating mainly seagrass and algae; Hawksbill Turtles feed mainly on sponges and algae; Loggerhead Turtles are carnivores, feeding on a broad range of marine invertebrates - molluscs, crustaceans, urchins etc; Olive Ridleys and Flatbacks are mainly carnivorous but some algae has been recorded in the gut contents of these species.

This depends on its level of activity. An active turtle may need to surface frequently. However, a resting turtle can conserve oxygen by slowing its heart rate and stay submerged for four to seven hours.

Mon Repos, 370 km (a four-and-a-half-hour drive) north of Brisbane is a great place to see nesting turtles. Most of the turtles are Loggerheads but, if you’re lucky, you may also get to see a Flatback or a Green Turtle. The season runs from early November to late March but the Christmas - New Year period is a good time to go. There are female turtles laying eggs and hatchling turtles emerging from nests. You must book tickets to see the turtles as access to the nesting beach is strictly controlled. Tickets can be booked online at or over the phone by calling 1300 722 099.

Fact sheets


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Queensland Museum's Patrick Couper visits Mon Repos Turtle Rookery

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