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Leatherback Turtle

Conservation Status

IUCN Listing

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015

Australian Government

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999


Nature Conservation Act 1992

Western Australia

Wildlife Conservation Act 1950


Known as the largest sea turtle species in the world, the Leatherback can weigh up to 907 kg (2000 lbs) and measure up to 2 m (7 ft).  Despite their large size, they are one of the most migratory marine turtle species giving them the widest global distribution. Individual leatherback turtles can cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans many times during their life.

The large range of waters Leatherbacks travel through, means it is importntt for them to maintain their body temperature in cold water by using unique set of adaptations that allow them to generate and retain body heat.

Leatherbacks are unique from any other marine turtle species because of their ridged leather-like carapace rather than the hard bony carapace of other turtle species.  The carapace is flexible and slightly rubbery to the touch and inky-blue in colour. This distinguishing feature is what gives them their name.

They are the only remaining representatives of a family of turtles that trace evolutionary roots back 100 million years. 

This species of marine turtle can dive deeper than any other species, with reaching depths of 1,280 m (4,200 ft).  The duration of their dives can last up to 85 minutes.

Leatherbacks can be found in the tropical and temperate waters of Australia.  However, the Leatherbacks that are observed migrate to other surrounding countries to breed and lay nests.   There are now only anecdotal reports of leatherback turtles nesting on Australian shores with one report in 2016 and no others since 2011. Leatherback turtles used to nest along the Queensland and northern NSW coast but have not been observed since 1996. The trend of leatherback turtle nesting in Australia suggests we may see the last leatherback turtle nest on our shores in the next 10 years.

Their diet is carnivorous, almost exclusively feeding on jellyfish due to their delicate, scissor-like jaws.

Main Threats

Despite their large size, Leatherbacks still face many threats. Many still collect their eggs for food, they get stuck in fishing lines/nests, suffer from boat strikes, and face the perils of marine pollution.

Further Information

Limpus, C.J (2009). A biological review of Australian marine turtle species. 6. Leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea(Vandelli). Queensland: Environmental Protection Agency