Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ramsar site Ecological Character Description

Hale, J. and Butcher, R., 2013

for
Department of the Environment

About the document

The Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ecological Character Description

Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve is located in the Indian Ocean on the edge of Australia's North West Shelf, 610 kilometres north of Broome and 840 kilometres west of Darwin. The Reserve is in Australia's External Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands.  It is the largest of only three emergent oceanic reefs present within the north-eastern Indian Ocean. The Reserve is comprised of numerous marine habitats and supports a regionally important and diverse range of species.

This document describes the current Ramsar listing criteria met by the Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ramsar site. It was listed as a Wetland of International Importance because it is a biodiversity hotspot and bioregionally unique as the only oceanic reef in the region with vegetated islands. It supports 64 threatened species including hard and soft coral, giant clams, sea cucumbers, fish, sea turtles, seasnakes and a mammal. A regular breeding site for sea turtles and waterbirds, it also regularly supports more than 20 000 shorebirds and seabirds including more than one per cent of the total population of several species.

This document also describes the critical components, processes and services for Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ramsar site. Critical components include marine invertebrates, fish, seasnakes, turtles, seabirds and shorebirds and dugong. Critical processes and services include near natural wetland types, biodiversity and physical habitat. Limits of acceptable change for Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve have been proposed for all critical components, processes and benefits and services based on existing data.

The document also describes the key threats and knowledge gaps for the Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ramsar site, and recommended monitoring needs and communication messages.

What is an Ecological Character Description?

An Ecological Character Description describes the ecological character of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Wetland of International Importance. The Ecological Character Description is a fundamental management tool for site managers, forming the basis of management planning and action as well as including guidance on site monitoring requirements to detect changes in the ecological character of the site.

The ecological character of a wetland is the sum of all the components, processes and services of that wetland. Ecosystem components are physical, chemical and biological parts of a wetland, from large-scale to very small-scale (e.g. habitat, species and genes). Ecosystem processes are the dynamic forces within an ecosystem. They include all those processes that occur between organisms and within and between populations and communities, including interactions with the non-living environment that result in existing ecosystems and bring about changes in ecosystems over time. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from ecosystems.

The description also identifies limits of acceptable change which describe the range of variation which key aspects of the ecology of the site can vary without representing a change in the ecological character.

An Ecological Character Description also sets out the current Ramsar listing criteria met by the site, the key threats and knowledge gaps. Recommended monitoring needs and communication messages are also provided.

Further information on what Ecological Character Descriptions are and how critical components, processes and services are identified is available in the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands – Module 2 of the National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands – Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia.