The Leatherback Turtle

Leatherback turtle (dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback turtle carapace

  • Carapace with 5 distinct ridges and no large scales
  • Black with light spotting
  • Adult carapace approximately 1.6 metres


Distribution and habitats

The leatherback turtle is the largest of the marine turtles and the most wide ranging pelagic distribution throughout the world. Leatherbacks are the deepest diving of the marine turtles having been recorded below 1000 meters. They are also to be found in tropical waters to temperate waters from Alaska to south of New Zealand. Their range extends to all oceans and seas of the world.

In Australia, leatherback turtles occur in our tropical and temperate waters. Leatherback turtles are most commonly reported feeding in coastal waters in central eastern Australia (from the Sunshine Coast in southern Queensland to central New South Wales); south-east Australia (from Tasmania, Victoria and eastern South Australia) and in south-western Western Australia. They are also regularly seen in southern Australian. Most leatherback turtles living in Australian waters migrate to breed in neighbouring countries, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Breeding areas and nesting seasons

Leatherback turtles nest in many countries of the world including both north and south America, Mexico, Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

No large rookeries have been recorded in Australia. Scattered nesting has been reported along the south Queensland coast from Bundaberg to Round Hill Head and along the coast of Arnhem Land from Coburg Peninsula to Maningrida, including Crocker Island. Some nesting has occurred in northern New South Wales near Ballina. However the last recorded nesting in Queensland was in 1996.In Queensland, the most frequently used nesting beaches by leatherback turtles are Wreck Rock and Rules Beach. Breeding in south-eastern Queensland occurs mostly during December and January.


The leatherback turtle is carnivorous and feeds mainly in the open ocean on jellyfish and other soft-bodied invertebrates.


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