Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Cobourg Peninsula


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

08 May 1974

Sand, mudflat and mangrove area on the shoreline of Caiman Creek (2009),  Photo: Michelle McAulay

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 8


Northern Territory


220 700 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Timor Sea

Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • C - Coral reefs
  • D - Rocky marine shores; includes rocky offshore islands, sea cliffs
  • 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
  • N - Seasonal/intermittent/irregular rivers/streams/creeks
  • P - Seasonal/intermittent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes floodplain lakes
  • Q - Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline lakes
  • R - Seasonal/intermittent saline/brackish/alkaline lakes and flats
  • Sp - Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools
  • Ss - Seasonal/intermittent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools
  • 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
  • Xf - Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils

Key features of the site:

The Cobourg Peninsula is located 200 km north-east of Darwin in the Northern Territory. The Cobourg Peninsula Ramsar site boundary follows the former Gurig National Park boundary (now part of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park), and covers all wetlands of Cobourg Peninsula and nearby islands. This includes freshwater and extensive intertidal areas, but excludes subtidal areas. The peninsula is in a remote location and there has been minimal human impact on the site.

The wetlands are mostly tidal and numerous creeks flow into the tidal areas. The northern coastline of the Peninsula has isolated bays, rocky headlands and beaches. The intertidal and coastal areas consist of extensive dunes, fringing coral and rocky reefs, sand and mudflats, with few areas of mangroves and seagrass communities. In contrast, the southern coastline and islands are dominated by mangrove communities associated with large mudflats.

The main vegetation communities on the Peninsula are eucalypt forests and woodlands with grass understorey. There is also an unusually extensive area of tall palm on the Peninsula.

An abundance of fauna use the wetlands including a large variety of birds, frogs, marine turtles, mammals and reptiles including the saltwater crocodile. The dugong lives in the marine area surrounding the Peninsula.

The Ramsar site has significant social and cultural values, including archaeological material relating to its Indigenous, Maccassan and European heritage. These include occupation sites, traditional art, middens and waste heaps, abandoned settlements and houses, and shipwrecks. An on-going 'living culture' is maintained by the Arrarrkbi (traditional Indigenous owners of the Cobourg Peninsula) who uphold traditional land management practices, customary law and traditions.

The Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is managed under a joint arrangement between the traditional owners and the Northern Territory Government. The Park is managed as a conservation reserve and is used for conservation, regulated tourism, hunting and Indigenous use. The waters surrounding the Peninsula support commercial and recreational fisheries.

Justification of the listing criteria:

Cobourg Peninsula Ramsar site meets five of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: The Cobourg Peninsula Ramsar site is located in the Timor Sea Division Australian Drainage Division bioregion and the Northern IMCRA Province bioregion. The wetlands represent some of the better protected and near-natural wetlands in the bioregion, including ten out of twelve marine/coastal wetland systems and ten out of twenty inland wetland types. This is a diverse array of wetland in a confined area.

Criterion 2: The Cobourg Peninsula Ramsar site supports fourteen nationally or internationally endangered or vulnerable marine fauna species including the green turtle, flatback turtle, leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, Olive Ridley turtle, loggerhead turtle and the dugong. The site also supports the following nationally threatened species: northern quoll, brush-tailed rabbit-rat, water mouse, Merten's water monitor, red goshawk, partridge pigeon (eastern) and masked owl (northern).

Criterion 3: The site supports a diverse assemblage of flora and fauna species, including over 800 plant species, 35 mammals, 71 reptiles, 19 frogs, 236 birds, over 600 fish, 64 corals and 406 marine invertebrates from coral reefs or the intertidal zone. It supports almost all Ramsar wetland types known to occur within the bioregion.

Criterion 4: The site includes nesting habitat for significant populations of marine turtles, and habitat for several cetaceans (including the Australian snubfin, Indo-Pacific humpback, Indo-Pacific bottlenose and the false killer whale). It supports significant waterbird (seabird) breeding colonies and important feeding and nesting habitat for migratory shorebirds as they travel along the East Asian Australasian Flyway. This includes 37 species listed under migratory bird agreements with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Permanent billabongs and river channels within the site provide dry season refugia for aquatic species as well as water-dependent terrestrial vertebrate species (including birds, reptiles and frogs).

Criterion 8: Cobourg Peninsula provides a wide range of habitats, feeding areas, dispersal and migratory pathways and spawning sites for numerous fish species of direct and indirect fisheries significance, including barramundi, giant trevally, mangrove jack, black bream, barracuda, mullet, as well as crustacean including mud crabs and prawns.

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.