Australian Wetlands Database

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Moulting Lagoon


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

16 November 1982

The lagoon contains areas of both shallow and deep water and is surrounded by periodically exposed mudflats (2009), Photo: DSEWPaC

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 3, 4, 6, 8




4507 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:


Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • 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
  • J - Coastal brackish/saline lagoons; brackish to saline lagoons with at least one relatively narrow connection to the sea
  • U - Non-forested peatlands; includes shrub or open bogs, swamps, fens

Key features of the site:

Moulting Lagoon is situated on the central east coast of Tasmania, between the townships of Swansea and Bicheno and approximately 6 km north-west of the township of Coles Bay. The lagoon is a large estuary at the mouths of the Swan and Apsley Rivers. The estuary lies at the head of Great Oyster Bay where the Freycinet Peninsula extends offshore to the south.

The lagoon formed with the partial closure of the mouths of the Swan and Apsley Rivers, due to the creation of a bayhead spit and associated dunefield between 10 000 and 6 000 years ago.

The lagoon contains areas of both shallow and deep water and is surrounded by periodically exposed mudflats and saltmarsh. The plant communities around Moulting Lagoon reflect the wide diversity of terrain and consequent soil drainage patterns. Aquatic vegetation in the estuary is largely composed of seagrasses. Succulent saline herbland and saline sedgeland and rushland, both saltmarsh communities, surround the lagoon.

Vegetation in the shallower areas, mainly Beaded Grasswort and Sea Rush, provides an important nesting, roosting and feeding habitat for the numerous resident waterfowl. The Ramsar site is an important breeding area for Black Swan and an important staging area for all the other species of waterfowl in Tasmania, with particularly large summer concentrations of Australian Shelduck and Chestnut Teal. It also supports the largest known Tasmanian flocks of Greenshank.

Moulting Lagoon is part of the Moulting Lagoon Game Reserve. The area historically was used for the harvest of waterfowl and their eggs by Indigenous people who lived around the lagoon. Current use of the Ramsar site includes recreational activities such as fishing and hunting, and commercial activities such as aquaculture and tourism.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Moulting Lagoon Ramsar site meets five of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: Moulting Lagoon is one of only two large estuaries formed behind a bayhead sandspit in Tasmania. The estuary is recognised as one of high conservation significance for Tasmania. The site forms part of the Moulting Lagoon and Great Oyster Bay long-lived graben system, a geoconservation site of representative and outstanding regional significance.

Criterion 3: Moulting Lagoon supports a number of species and communities which are rare or threatened in Tasmania. It is a significant site for the internationally listed migratory Common Greenshank. Moulting Lagoon also supports one waterbird species listed as threatened in Tasmania, the Eastern Curlew. Furthermore, the site supports a number of plant species listed as threatened in Tasmania, such as Golden Spray, Sea Clubsedge, Southern Swamp Grass, Largefruit Seatassel and Spreading Watermat.

Criterion 4: Moulting Lagoon provides an important resting and breeding ground for many species of resident and migratory birds, and an important drought refuge. In drought years, significantly higher numbers of Black Swan and Australian Shelduck have been recorded at the site. The lagoon is also an important breeding area for Black Swan with approximately 80% of the Tasmanian population breeding there.

Criterion 6: Moulting Lagoon regularly supports 1% of the individuals of four waterbird species, the Black Swan, Caspian Tern, Pied Oystercatcher and Pacific Gull.

Criterion 8: Moulting Lagoon and the Apsley Marshes provide a linkage between the inland waters of the Apsley River and the Southern Ocean. Short-finned eel, black bream and Australian grayling use the site as a migratory route during breeding.

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.