Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Kakadu National Park


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

Kakadu National Park was previously two separate Ramsar sites. These were:
  • Stage 1 listed on 12 June 1980 and extended in 1995
  • Stage 2 listed on 15 September 1989
On 28 April 2010 the two Ramsar sites were combined to form a single Ramsar site encompassing the entire National Park.

Yellow Water, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory,  Photo: S. Stuart-Smith

Australian Ramsar site number:





Northern Territory


1 979 766 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Timor Sea

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
  • E - Sand, shingle or pebble shores; includes sand bars, spits and sandy islets; includes dune systems and humid dune slacks
  • 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
  • J - Coastal brackish/saline lagoons; brackish to saline lagoons with at least one relatively narrow connection to the sea
  • K - Coastal freshwater lagoons; includes freshwater delta lagoons
  • L - Permanent inland deltas
  • M - Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls
  • N - Seasonal/intermittent/irregular rivers/streams/creeks
  • O - Permanent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes large oxbow lakes
  • Tp - Permanent freshwater marshes/pools; ponds (below 8 ha), marshes and swamps on inorganic soils; with emergent vegetation water-logged for at least most of the growing season
  • Ts - Seasonal/intermittent freshwater marshes/pools on inorganic soils; includes sloughs, potholes, seasonally flooded meadows, sedge marshes
  • Xp - Forested peatlands; peatswamp forests
  • Y - Freshwater springs; oases

Key features of the site:

Kakadu National Park Ramsar site is located approximately 220 kilometres east of Darwin, Northern Territory. The National Park straddles the western edge of the Arnhem Land Plateau where scarp retreat and lowland erosion have formed a diverse landscape of escarpment, rocky gorges and waterfalls, broken hills, valleys and extensive floodplains.

The Ramsar site is a mosaic of contiguous wetlands comprising the catchments of two large river systems, the East and South Alligator rivers, seasonal creeks and the lower reaches of the East Alligator River. It also includes the Magela Creek floodplain, the lower South Alligator floodplain, virtually the entire West Alligator River system and nearly all the Wildman River system.

Kakadu National Park comprises of sandstone plateau communities, escarpments, extensive seasonal floodplains, estuaries, tidal flats and offshore islands. The rivers are tidal in their lower reaches and are associated with extensive tidal flats formed from riverborne mud.

The tidal mudflats of the rivers are largely bare of vegetation except for the inland zone where samphire, sedges and grasses are present. The vegetation of the wetlands is predominantly grass and sedge communities with freshwater mangrove or paperbark swamps along stream and lagoon edges. The Wildman, West Alligator and East Alligator rivers support bands of mangrove forest along their tidal reaches. Lilies and ferns occur in the deeper permanent lagoons.

During the dry season water contracts into lagoons and billabongs and up to two million waterbirds accumulate on the floodplains. At least 53 species of waterbirds use the Ramsar site including large concentrations of magpie geese and wandering whistling-duck. These and many other species breed in the wetlands but most species are dry season migrants.

Both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles are known to breed within the Ramsar site. Fifty-nine fish species are known from the wetland, including eight with narrowly restricted ranges.

The area has significant cultural and heritage value. Kakadu has been home to Indigenous people for more than 50 000 years, and during that time the land and their culture have become intertwined. Kakadu National Park is jointly managed by its traditional owners and the Australian Government, through the Kakadu Board of Management and the Director of National Parks. The Ramsar site is also highly valued for its nature-based tourism and conservation activities.

Justification of the listing criteria:

Kakadu National Park Ramsar site meets all nine of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: The wetland types occurring within the Ramsar site are representative of types found in the bioregion. In particular, the floodplains are outstanding examples of their types in the Timor Sea Drainage Division of the monsoon tropics. Field Island is also particularly notable as it represents a remarkably high level of habitat diversity within a relatively small area.

Criterion 2: Kakadu National Park supports numerous nationally threatened species, notably the yellow chat, pig-nosed turtle, speartooth shark, northern river shark and flatback turtle.

Criterion 3: The Ramsar site has a rich biological diversity representative of the region. In particular, 59 fish species are known from the wetland, including eight with narrowly restricted ranges. Sixty-one mammal species and 105 reptile species have been recorded in the Ramsar site. Kakadu National Park also supports four regionally endemic wetland-dependent flora species and four regionally endemic fish species.

Criterion 4: Large numbers of waterbirds breed within Kakadu National Park. Significant breeding groups of magpie geese occur throughout the floodplains of the site, with the South Alligator floodplains regarded as the third most important area of nesting habitat after the Mary-Adelaide and Daly River floodplains. Additionally, the permanent wetlands within the site (particularly billabongs) provide a dry season refuge for a variety of species including waterbirds, reptiles such as crocodiles and freshwater turtle, and freshwater fish.

Criterion 5: Between August and October up to 2.5 million waterbirds accumulate on the floodplains of Kakadu National Park. In particular, large concentrations of magpie geese and wandering whistling-duck occur in the Ramsar site in places such as the Nourlangie floodplain.

Criterion 6: Kakadu National Park supports more than one per cent of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway population, of the following waterbirds: magpie goose, wandering whistling-duck, plumed whistling-duck, Radjah shelduck, pacific black duck, grey teal, brolga, black-necked stork, marsh sandpiper, little curlew, common sandpiper, Australian pratnicole and sharp-tailed sandpiper.

Criterion 7: Fifty-nine freshwater fish species have been recorded in Kakadu National Park. This represents approximately 20 per cent of the total number of fish species found in Australian freshwaters and is the highest species richness of any catchment in the Timor Sea Drainage Division.

Criterion 8: Kakadu National Park provides important habitats, feeding areas, dispersal and migratory pathways, and spawning sites for numerous fish species of direct and indirect fisheries' significance.

Criterion 9: The Ramsar site supports one per cent of the population of the following species: northern river shark, speartooth shark, pig-nosed turtle and saltwater crocodile.

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.