Department of Parks adn Wildlife
Green turtle
Green turtle
Photo © Tourism WA

Six of the world’s seven species of turtles are found in WA waters:

All marine turtles in Australian waters are protected species at both State and Commonwealth levels.

Marine turtles generally live for a long time and are slow to reach sexual maturity—it can take between 20 and 50 years for a turtle to begin to breed. The only time they leave the ocean is when the adult females lay their eggs on beaches, and occasionally to bask during the nesting season.



Marine turtle conservation

Marine turtle populations have declined in many places across the globe.

Threats to their survival include

Parks and Wildlife monitors and protects marine turtles with the support of mining companies, fisheries companies, Aboriginal people, the community, the media and others.

flatback measuring volunteers pic liz grant
Volunteers assist with monitoring flatback
turtles on Thevenard Island in the Pilbara.
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

North West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation

Flatback turtles are the only marine turtle species that nest exclusively in Australia. They are listed as vulnerable under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and as data deficient under the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Flatback turtles were only described as a separate species in 1988 from research undertaken in Queensland.

Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley island and mainland beaches support significant nesting grounds for flatbacks.

The Northwest Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program (NWSFTCP) is a 30-year, $32.5 million program that aims to conserve flatbacks in WA waters, at nesting beaches and throughout their range, which can include Commonwealth, Northern Territory and Queensland jurisdictions.

Research is still needed to define the abundance and distribution of the flatback population of the Northwest Shelf and work being done includes:

The NWSFTCP is one of two additional conservation programs required to be delivered by the Gorgon Joint Venture Partners as detailed in the Variation Agreement 2009 to the Barrow Island Act 2003.

pdfNorth West Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program – Strategic Conservation Plan 2014-211.57 MB21/05/2018, 12:55

Find out more on the Northwest Shelf Flatback Turtle Conservation Program website.

Jurabi Turtle Centre
Jurabi Turtle Centre adjacent to
Ningaloo Marine Park
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

Community education

The Jurabi Turtle Centre, 13 kilometres from Exmouth, between Hunters and Mauritius beaches, is adjacent to a popular rookery. The centre, a collaborative project between the Shire of Exmouth and Parks and Wildlife, provides interpretive and educational displays on turtle biology and ecology, turtle viewing advice and ready access to turtle nesting beaches.

A short film on how to observe nesting marine turtles is shown at the Milyering Discovery Centre in Cape Range National Park during the turtle breeding season.

A nationally accredited Turtle Tour Guiding course has been established at Exmouth TAFE. Places are available from September each year with subsequent opportunities to obtain employment in the area. 

Turtle tagging program

Marine turtles are individually marked to provide information about

Loggerhead Turtle
Loggerhead turtle, Dirk Hartog Island
Photo © Kevin Crane

Marker tagging programs have been conducted in Western Australian locations since the mid-1980s and continue at Dirk Hartog Island National Park in Shark Bay, Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago, Barrow and Varanus islands off the Pilbara coast, and Cowrie Beach on Mundabullangana Station near Port Hedland.

The department works in partnership with Pilbara Iron, Woodside Energy, Chevron Australia, Apache Energy, The University of Western Australia and Mundabullangana Station.

Community beach-based turtle track monitoring

Community groups in Exmouth, Coral Bay, Wickham and Port Hedland monitor turtle nesting beaches.

Observers walk along defined sections of beach at sunrise every morning during the main nesting season and record:

Data is used to identify key nesting habitats, their relative significance, trends and management issues.

Community programs have several partners—Parks and Wildlife, Cape Conservation Group, WWF Australia, Commonwealth Natural Heritage Trust, Wildlife Link, Coastwest, Care for Hedland Environmental Association, West Pilbara Community Turtle Group, Pilbara Iron, MacMahon, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Threatened Species Network.

Volunteers are invited to assist with all these programs. For more information visit or contact the local community representative:

Aerial surveys

Aerial surveys along the Ningaloo-Carnarvon coast and along the Pilbara coast between Onslow and Port Hedland, including islands, are used to identify turtle rookeries, show the nesting abundance and indicate numbers.

How can you help?

Turtle watchers’ code of conduct

There are three important stages in the reproductive process of marine turtles:

If done correctly, marine turtles can be observed without undue disturbance to the breeding process.

If you would like to view nesting marine turtles it is recommended that you participate in guided turtle experience. By doing this you are actively helping to conserve marine turtles and will have a better opportunity to view marine turtles nesting in the natural environment.

Flatback turtle hatchings
Photo © Andrea Whiting


Between September and December, female turtles are often seen resting at the water's edge close to mating areas.

During this time they are heavily stressed and extremely vulnerable to both natural and human impacts.

It is critical that female turtles are able to replenish their energy by resting on the shore and that NO disturbance to turtles occurs in these areas.


Turtle watching is becoming increasingly popular.

To reduce the chance of disturbing turtles, increase their nesting success and support long term survival of the species, it is important to follow the turtle watchers' code of conduct below:

Turtle nesting occurs in six stages. Times taken vary for each species – green turtles take the longest, and hawksbills are the quickest.

Stage of nestingIdentification of stageTime takenVulnerability to disturbanceTorch useDistance from Turtle


Crawls from the ocean towards the dunes

5–20 mins



Stay still – at least 15m away

2. Digging the body pit

Uses her front flippers to throw large quantities of sand behind her

20–40 mins



Stay still – at least 15m away

3. Excavating the egg chamber

Uses her rear flippers only, creating a rocking motion as she digs

10–20 mins



3 people at a time only.
At least 1m behind turtle

4. Laying eggs

Remains very still with a gentle heaving motion

3-10 mins


OK from behind if kept low and partially covered 1m from rear of turtle

Stay at least 1m away behind turtle

5. Covering and camouflaging the nest

Covers the nest and compacts the sand with her rear flippers only, then gradually moves forward throwing large quantities of sand behind her, using her front flippers

20–40 mins



Stay still - at least 2m behind turtle

6. Returning to the ocean.

Crawls from the dunes to the ocean

5–10 mins



Remain 2m behind turtle


In natural conditions very few marine turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood. Additional, human induced pressures have further decreased their likelihood of survival. To minimise human impact on hatchlings:


WA marine turtle symposium

Turtles have had a high conservation profile since the 1980s and research has expanded considerably over the years with numerous projects led by government, industry, university and community sectors. This increase in research and conservation activity has created a need to develop forums to allow people to interact and share knowledge. The Australian and Western Australian marine turtle symposia are such forums.

Reports of the proceedings of Western Australian marine turtle symposia: