Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Hunter Estuary Wetlands


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

21 February 1984

Melaleuca Swamp dominated by Broad-leaved Paperbark trees (2009),  Photo: Sarah Stuart-Smith

Australian Ramsar site number:



2, 4, 6


New South Wales


Kooragang - 2,926 hectares; Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia - 42 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

South-East Coast

Wetland type: 

  • 2 - Ponds; includes farm ponds, stock ponds, small tanks; (generally below 8 ha)
  • 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
  • Ss - Seasonal/intermittent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools
  • Ts - Seasonal/intermittent freshwater marshes/pools on inorganic soils; includes sloughs, potholes, seasonally flooded meadows, sedge marshes
  • Xf - Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils

Key features of the site:

The Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar site is comprised of two components, Kooragang and Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia. The Kooragang component of the Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar site is located in the estuary of the Hunter River, approximately 7 km north of Newcastle on the coast of New South Wales. Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is 2.5 km from Kooragang. Although the sites are not contiguous they have significant linkages, both hydrologically and by a wildlife corridor consisting of Ironbark Creek, the Hunter River and Ash Island.

The Kooragang component includes Kooragang Island and Fullerton Cove, two areas that lie in the estuarine section of the Hunter River. Kooragang Island originally consisted of seven islands that were mostly separated by narrow mangrove lined channels. In the 1950s these islands were reclaimed and became "Kooragang Island". Habitat types within the Reserve include mangrove forests dominated by Grey Mangrove, Samphire saltmarsh, Paperbark and Swamp she-oak swamp forests, brackish swamps, mudflats, and sandy beaches.

Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is a small but unique complex of wetland types surrounded by urban development along three boundaries. Previously degraded, this urban wetland has been restored. Habitat types at the Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia include restored semi-permanent/seasonal freshwater ponds and marshes, natural semi-permanent/seasonal brackish ponds and marshes, freshwater swamp forests and a coastal estuarine creek.

The Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar site is extremely important as both a feeding and roosting site for a large seasonal population of shorebirds and as a waylay site for transient migrants. Over 250 species of birds have been recorded within the Ramsar site, including 45 species listed under international migratory conservation agreements. In addition, the Ramsar site provides habitat for the nationally threatened Green and Golden Bell Frog, Red Goshawk and Australasian Bittern.

The Ramsar site was traditionally used by the Worimi, Awabakal and Pambalong peoples. There are numerous middens and campsites scattered throughout the lower Hunter River, particularly within the dunes along Stockton Bight. The Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia also contains an archaeological site that is believed to have been an area for the production of stone tools.

Currently, the Kooragang component is used for recreational and nature-based activities. The Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia actively promotes wetland conservation and wise use through communication and education, passive recreation and community involvement.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar site meets three of the nine criteria:

Criterion 2: The Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar site supports 3 species that are nationally and internationally listed. The estuary stingray (Dasyatis fluviorum) listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Version 2009.1) and the green and golden bell frog (Litoria aurea) listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) have been found within the Kooragang component of the Ramsar site. The Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) listed as endangered on both the EPBC Act and the IUCN Red List (Version 2009.1) has been found at both components of the Ramsar site.

Criterion 4: The Hunter Estuary Wetland Ramsar site supports 112 species of waterbirds and 45 species of migratory birds listed under international agreements, including the great egret (Ardea alba), cattle egret (Ardea ibis), terns (Sterna spp.), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) and white-breasted sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster).
The Hunter Estuary wetlands also provide refuge for waterbirds such as ducks and herons during periods of inland drought.

Criterion 6: The Hunter Estuary Wetland Ramsar site regularly supports 1% of the population of the eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) and the red-necked avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae),

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.