Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Ord River Floodplain


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

07 June 1990

The floodplain is strongly characterised by the monsoonal conditions of the area (2009),  Photo: Michelle McAulay

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8


Western Australia


141 453 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Tanami-Timor Sea Coast; Northern IMCRA Province

Wetland type: 

  • 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
  • M - Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls
  • N - Seasonal/intermittent/irregular rivers/streams/creeks
  • 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
  • W - Shrub-dominated wetlands; shrub swamps, shrub-dominated freshwater marshes, shrub carr, alder thicket on inorganic soils
  • Xf - Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils
  • Y - Freshwater springs; oases

Key features of the site:

The Ord River Floodplain Ramsar site, in north-east Western Australia, is a floodplain and estuarine wetland system. Parry Lagoons, at the southern end of the site, has broad floodplains that periodically flood and dry out and permanent waterholes. North of the lagoons, the site includes the Ord River Estuary leading into the Cambridge Gulf. The north-east end of the site heads around the coast to include a series of extensive intertidal creeks and flats known as the False Mouths of the Ord. The upstream portion of the floodplain and river tends to be freshwater, and becomes more saline as the river approaches the Cambridge Gulf and falls under tidal influence.

Mangroves are the most common vegetation in the site, extending from the False Mouths of the Ord to the upstream sections of the estuary. The mangroves form narrow fringes along the intertidal areas, with saltmarsh on higher ground. The intertidal mangroves support many species of birds and bats, and are a breeding area for banana prawns.

The Parry Lagoon floodplains are dominated by grassland, the lower Ord River and Parry Creek by riparian woodland, and the permanent waterholes by aquatic vegetation.

Over 200 species of birds have been recorded within the site including waterfowl, migratory shorebirds, mangrove birds and terrestrial species. The site supports the nationally threatened Australian painted snipe.

The wetlands are habitat for many diadromous fish species (that require migration between marine and more freshwater environments some time during their life), including the nationally threatened species freshwater sawfish, green sawfish and northern river shark. Reptiles that use the site include the freshwater crocodile and saltwater crocodile.

The Ord River Floodplain Ramsar site lies within the boundaries of six Indigenous language groups: Miriuwung, Gajerrong, Dulbung, Guluwaring, Djangade and Biambarr. The site contains Indigenous burial sites, artefact scatters, quarries, paintings and ceremonial sites.

The Ord River Nature Reserve and Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve are gazetted for the conservation of flora and fauna.

The Lower Ord River and the False Mouths of the Ord are popular destinations for locals and visitors for recreational fishing, crabbing and boating. The Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve is also important for passive recreational activities such as bird watching and bush walking. Nature based commercial tourism is an important source of income for the region.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Ord River Floodplain wetland Ramsar site meets seven of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: The site represents the best example of wetlands associated with the floodplain, and estuary of a tropical river system in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Criterion 2: The site supports a number of threatened species including the freshwater sawfish the green sawfish and the Australian painted snipe which are listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The site is also one of only two known habitats in Western Australia of the nationally endangered northern river shark.

Criterion 3: The site contains an extensive and diverse mangrove community containing 14 of the 18 species of mangrove known to occur in Western Australia, potentially the most diverse in Western Australia.

Criterion 4: The site supports an array of species and communities during critical life stages including: migratory birds; breeding of waterbirds, fish, crabs, prawns and crocodiles.

Criterion 5: Despite the fact that much of the area is difficult to survey, there is sufficient evidence to support the criterion of “regularly supports 20 000 waterbirds”. Surveys conducted at Parry Lagoons in the 1980s regularly recorded at least 20 000 birds in this portion of the Ramsar site alone.

Criterion 6: The site regularly supports one per cent of the population of plumed whistling duck and little curlew.

Criterion 8: The site is important as a nursery and/or breeding and/or feeding ground for at least 50 species of fish and a migratory route for 15 species that are known to be diadromous.

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.