Marine turtles, along with other turtles and tortoises, belong to the order Testudines. They can be found in all of the Earth’s oceans except for polar regions. Marine turtles can live for up to 80 years and are very well adapted to their life in the sea. They have a large shell called a carapace, four strong, paddle-like flippers and like all reptiles, lungs for breathing air.
Marine turtles leave the water only to lay their eggs, which means that male turtles spend their entire life at sea. Females return year after year to the same beaches to lay their eggs, travelling long distances between their feeding grounds and nesting sites.
Marine turtles are an integral part of the traditional culture of many coastal indigenous peoples throughout the world, who have consumed their eggs and flesh, or used their carapace to manufacture items such as ornaments, combs and decoration material.
Australian waters are home to 6 of the 7 species of marine turtles found in the world, as follows:
* Loggerhead turtle
* Olive Ridley turtle
* Leatherback turtle
* Flatback turtle
* Green turtle
* Hawksbill turtle
Unfortunately, the first two are considered endangered, while the other 4 are classified as vulnerable. All marine turtle species are experiencing serious threats to their survival. Turtles need to be 30 years old or more to start breeding, but threats such as pollution, entanglements with discarded fishing lines and destruction of eggs from dogs, foxes and 4WD is resulting in less turtles living long enough to reproduce.
Marine turtles are protected under the Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Although marine turtles are found all along the NSW coast, they can be hard to spot. Due to their size you are more likely to see them in the water if you are on a boat or kayak.
The best way to see turtles is when they come on shore to lay their eggs amongst the beach sand dunes. Northern NSW and Southern Queensland have a high concentration of nesting sites, with Cabarita Beach near Tweed Heads being a popular spot for people wishing to view turtles.