Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Great Sandy Strait (including Great Sandy Strait, Tin Can Bay and Tin Can Inlet).


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

14 June 1999

The Great Sandy Strait is a double-ended sand passage estuary containing a diversity of marine and coastal wetland types,  Photo: Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8




About 93 160 hectares including wider channels and open water.

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Central Eastern Shelf Transition; North-East Coast

Wetland type: 

  • A - Permanent shallow marine waters in most cases less than six metres deep at low tide; includes sea bays and straits
  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • C - Coral reefs
  • 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
  • U - Non-forested peatlands; includes shrub or open bogs, swamps, fens
  • Xf - Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils

Key features of the site:

The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar site is located in south-eastern Queensland and includes Great Sandy Strait, Tin Can Bay, Tin Can Bay Inlet, parts of Fraser Island and the mainland. It is a sand passage estuary between the mainland and the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. Fraser Island has formed sufficiently close to the mainland to block the flow of a substantial river system, creating a double-ended estuary with a shifting (though relatively stable) pattern of mangroves, sand banks and mud islands

Great Sandy Strait is a large area of tidal swamps consisting of intertidal sand and mud flats, extended seagrass beds, mangrove forests, salt flats and saltmarshes, and often contiguous with freshwater Paperbark wetlands and Coastal Wallum swamps. The mangrove communities within the Strait represent a transition between essentially temperate and tropical species. The rare patterned fens have also been recorded along Great Sandy Strait.

The coastal wetlands of Great Sandy Strait are also of international significance for migratory birds, with 18 species listed under international migratory bird conservation agreements recorded within the Ramsar site. The Strait is also utilised by turtle species, Dugong and Humpback Whales. Threatened fish such as Oxleyan Pygmy Perch and Honey Blue-eye are also known to inhabit the area.

Great Sandy Strait holds significant cultural heritage values for local indigenous groups. Evidence of occupation in the area dates back 5,500 years and middens are frequently found in the site. The Ramsar site is currently highly valued for commercial fishing, recreational fishing, boating and tourism related activities.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar site meets six of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: Great Sandy Strait is an outstanding example of a sand passage estuary and is in a relatively undisturbed state. Large, well developed expanses of sand and mud flats, salt flats, mangroves and seagrass beds are widespread along the Strait. Such passages are rare in Queensland but less spectacular passages occur elsewhere in the South East Queensland bioregion. Also, the rare patterned fens occur in perhaps only one other part of the biogeographic region, and are not known anywhere else in the sub-tropics worldwide.

Criterion 2: The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar site provides feeding grounds that are frequently or occasionally used by six species of threatened marine turtle, the Green Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Flatback Turtle, Leatherback Turtle and Pacific Ridley Turtle. Other threatened species that occur in the site include the Dugong, Humpback Whale, Water Mouse, Illidge's Ant Blue Butterfly, and the Oxleyan Pygmy Perch.

Criterion 3: The Great Sandy Strait Ramsar site supports at least 38 species of shorebirds, 104 species of fish, 27 species of molluscs, hard & soft coral species, 11 species of mangrove, and seven species of seagrass. The mangrove communities within the Strait represent a transition between essentially temperate and tropical species.

Criterion 5: Wetlands along Great Sandy Strait regularly support in excess of 20 000 migratory shorebirds. Counts between 30 000 and 40 000 shorebirds have been recorded on several occasions.

Criterion 6: Wetlands along Great Sandy Strait regularly support more than 1% the total world population of the following species: Eastern Curlews, Grey-tailed Tattlers, Lesser Sand Plovers, Terek Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Bar-tailed Godwits, Pied Oystercatchers, Greenshanks, and Grey Plovers.

Criterion 8: The Great Sandy Strait tidal wetlands are extremely important for protection of, and source of food for, juvenile and adult fish, prawns and other crustaceans. It is highly valued for commercial and recreational fishing.

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.