Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Western Port


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

15 December 1982

Chinaman Island,  Photo: Mark Rodrigue (Parks Victoria)

Australian Ramsar site number:







59 950 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Southeast Coast Drainage Division; Bass Strait IMCRA Province

Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • D - Rocky marine shores; includes rocky offshore islands, sea cliffs
  • F - Estuarine waters; permanent water of estuaries and estuarine systems of deltas
  • G - Intertidal mud, sand or salt flats
  • H - Intertidal marshes; includes salt marshes, salt meadows, saltings, raised salt marshes; includes tidal brackish and freshwater marshes
  • I - Intertidal forested wetlands; includes mangrove swamps, nipah swamps and tidal freshwater swamp forests

Key features of the site:

Western Port is a large bay in southern Victoria incorporating around 260 kilometres of coastline, connected to Bass Strait by a wide channel between Flinders and Phillip Island, and a narrow channel between San Remo and Phillip Island. Six rivers from the north and east of the catchment flow into the northern and eastern shores of Western Port and several minor rivers and creeks on the eastern slopes of the Mornington Peninsula drain into the western shores.

The Ramsar site has a wide variety of habitat types, ranging from deep channels, seagrass flats, intertidal mudflats, extensive mangrove thickets and saltmarsh vegetation. The white mangrove communities within Western Port are the most well-developed and extensive in Victoria, and are the only large communities situated so far from the Equator. Threatened plant species that are found within the Ramsar site include dense leek-orchid, creeping rush, and tiny arrow grass.

Western Port is one of the three most important areas for waders in Victoria and the site supports numerous migratory species listed under international migratory bird conservation agreements. High numbers of eastern curlew, whimbrel, bar-tailed godwit, grey-tailed tattler, greenshank and terek sandpiper have been recorded at the site. Nationally threatened species that utilise Western Port include the orange-bellied parrot, swift parrot, helmeted honeyeater, little tern, southern right whale, and humpback whale. The site supports the globally threatened fairy tern which is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A number of Indigenous cultural heritage sites on the shores of Western Port have been identified. Currently, Western Port is used for commercial fishing and recreational activities such as boating, swimming and fishing.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Western Port Ramsar site meets seven of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: While a full assessment of the representativeness of the area in the Southeast Coast Drainage Division is yet to be undertaken, Western Port Bay is a particularly good example of a natural wetland marine embayment with extensive intertidal flats, mangroves, saltmarsh, and seagrass beds within the South East Coastal Plain. Western Port is also a very good example of a saltmarsh-mangrove-seagrass wetland system.

Criterion 2: The site supports the fairy tern which is a species of global conservation significance, in addition to the dense leek-orchid which is listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act. Saltmarsh vegetation within the site provides important habitat for the orange-bellied parrot, listed as critically endangered under the EPBC Act.

Criterion 3: Western Port is one of the most important areas for migratory waders in south-east Australia with wader surveys indicating that the Ramsar site supports up to 39 species, and includes 10 000 to 15 000 summer migrants (approximately 12 to 16 per cent of the Victorian population). It also supports seagrass and mangrove communities that are characteristic of the marine embayments of Southern Victoria.

Criterion 4: The Ramsar site is one of the three most important areas in southeast Australia for migratory waders in total numbers and density. The site also provides important overwintering habitat for the orange bellied parrot. It also provides a number of important high tide roosts and breeding habitat.

Criterion 5: The Ramsar site regularly supports about 10 000 to 15 000 migratory waders, and periodically supports 1000 to 3000 ducks and 5000 to 10 000 Black Swans.

Criterion 6: The Ramsar site regularly supports more than one per cent of the estimated flyway population of five wader species. The site also regularly supports internationally significant numbers of several non-wader species.

Criterion 8: Seagrass beds within the Ramsar site are known to provide important nursery habitat for a number of fish species, including commercially significant species.

Please see the More Information page for additional information on this Ramsar site and access to the Ramsar Information sheets and other associated site documents.