Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Gippsland Lakes


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

15 December 1982

The Lake King wetlands in the Ramsar site has supported 1% of the national population of the Little Tern, Photo: Andrew Corrick

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 5, 6, 8




60,015 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

South-East Coast

Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • J - Coastal brackish/saline lagoons; brackish to saline lagoons with at least one relatively narrow connection to the sea
  • Sp - Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools
  • 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

Key features of the site:

The Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site is located approximately 300 km east of Melbourne on the low-lying South East Coastal Plain bioregion. Covering a vast area, the lakes are a series of large, shallow, coastal lagoons approximately 70 km in length and 10 km wide, separated from the sea by sand dunes.

The surface area of the lakes is approximately 364 km2 and the three main water bodies are Lakes Wellington, Victoria, and King. The Gippsland Lakes together form the largest navigable inland waterway in Australia, and create a distinctive regional landscape of wetlands and flat coastal plains of considerable environmental significance.

The Mitchell Delta of the Ramsar site is a classic form of digitate delta and ranks as one of the finest examples of this type of landform in the world. The silt jetties of the delta extend almost eight kms into the lake as low, narrow tongues of sediment that were formerly bordered by a wide zone of reedswamp.

The Ramsar site contains 11 Ramsar wetland habitat types including most notably, coastal lagoons, subtidal seagrass and algal beds, and a range of saline, brackish and freshwater marsh environments. The site supports a broad range of ecosystem services including nationally and internationally threatened wetland species, waterbird breeding and fish spawning sites. Cultural and socio-economic values are equally diverse, noting the particular importance of the site in a regional context in terms of recreational activities such as boating, recreational fishing and holiday tourism

The Gippsland Lakes support three nationally vulnerable and endangered wetland-associated flora species (dwarf kerrawang, swamp everlasting and metallic sun-orchid), and the nationally threatened growling grass frog and green and golden bell frog . The bird diversity of the Ramsar wetland is high with 86 species of waterbirds being recorded including large numbers of the red-necked stint, black swan, sharp-tailed sandpiper, chestnut teal, musk duck, fairy tern and little tern.

Currently, parts of the Lakes system are heavily used for commercial and recreational fisheries and boating activities, while the immediate hinterland has been developed for agricultural use, and limited residential and tourism purposes.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site meets six of the nine criteria::

Criterion 1: The Gippsland Lakes is a particularly good representative example of a natural or near-natural wetland, characteristic of the biogeographical region. It forms one of the largest coastal lagoon systems in the Drainage Division and contains a distinctive landscape of wetlands and flat coastal plains. The site supports a broad range of wetland types in close proximity to each other, including periodically inundated palustrine marshes, permanently inundated palustrine marshes, shallow lacustrine (lake) features, deep lacustrine features, lagoons with narrow inlets, and broad embayments.

Criterion 2: The site supports several nationally threatened wetland fauna species at various stages of their life-cycle including two nationally threatened frog species (green and golden bell frogs and growling grass frogs), the vulnerable Australian painted snipe, a vulnerable fish species (the Australian grayling) and three nationally vulnerable and endangered wetland-associated flora species (dwarf kerrawang, swamp everlasting and metallic sun-orchid).

Criterion 4: The site supports habitat and conditions that are important for critical life cycle stages of a variety of wetland-dependent fauna species. The permanence of the main lakes and the relatively regular flooding of the adjacent wetlands mean that this wetland is an important drought refuge for many water birds and other aquatic species, including as permanent refugia and breeding sites for two threatened frog species.

Criterion 5: The Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site has been identified as being of outstanding importance for waterbirds, regularly supporting more than 20,000 waterfowl.

Criterion 6: Waterbird species which are considered to have met the one per cent population threshold are: red-necked stint (Calidris ruficollis), black swan (Cygnus atratus), sharp-tailed sandpiper (Calidris acuminate), chestnut teal (Anas castanea), musk duck (Biziura lobata), fairy tern (Sterna nereis) and little tern (Sterna albifrons).

Criterion 8: Gippsland Lakes provides important habitats, feeding areas, dispersal and migratory pathways, and spawning sites for numerous fish species of direct and indirect fisheries significance. These fish have important fisheries resource values both within and external to the site.

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.