Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

15 December 1982

Lake Borrie is the site of the largest breeding colony of Pied Cormorants in Victoria (1999),  Photo: B. Edgar

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 3, 5, 6




22, 897 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

South-East Coast

Wetland type: 

  • 3 - Irrigated land; includes irrigation channels and rice fields
  • 8 - Wastewater treatment areas; sewage farms, settling ponds, oxidation basins, etc.
  • A - Permanent shallow marine waters in most cases less than six metres deep at low tide; includes sea bays and straits
  • 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
  • M - Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls
  • 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

Key features of the site:

The Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar site is located in the western portion of Port Phillip Bay, near the city of Geelong in Victoria. The site comprises six distinct areas that include Point Cook/Cheetham, Werribee/Avalon, Point Wilson/Limeburners Bay, Swan Bay, Mud Islands, and the Lake Connewarre Complex.

The Ramsar site is a low-lying area and a natural discharge point for the rivers draining southern central Victoria. The tidal amplitude within the bay is reduced compared with Bass Strait due to the narrow opening of the Bay (Port Phillip Heads).

Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula support a variety of wetland types ranging from shallow marine waters to seasonal freshwater swamps and extensive sewage ponds. Wetland areas include freshwater lakes, estuaries, some with White Mangrove, saltmarshes, intertidal mudflats and seagrass beds. The Ramsar site supports some plants species threatened in Victoria, such as Small Scurf-pea and Rare Bitter-bush.

This Ramsar site is the sixth most important area in Australia for migratory waders and the most important in Victoria. Large numbers of bird species including Pied Oystercatchers, Banded Stilts, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Fairy Tern, Australasian Shoveler, Red-necked Avocets, Blue-billed Duck, and Freckled Duck, have been recorded at the site. Furthermore, the Melbourne Water Corporation Sewage Farm and Western Treatment Plant at Werribee support many waterbirds on its retention ponds.

Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula provides important habitat for threatened species such as the Little Tern and Striped Legless Lizard. In particular, large numbers of the nationally threatened Orange-bellied Parrot utilise Port Phillip Bay during the winter after their summer migration to Tasmania to breed. Swan Bay and Limeburners Lagoon are also valuable fish breeding grounds for many of the commercial species caught in Port Phillip Bay.

There are a number of important indigenous sites within the wetlands, including burial sites, middens and artefacts, with the oldest midden in the area being at least 5000 years old. Currently over three million people live around Port Phillip Bay, which is used intensively for recreation, nature conservation, sewage treatment, aquaculture, fishing, and salt production.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula Ramsar site meets four of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula includes a range of marine and inland wetlands characteristic of the South East Coastal Plain bioregion as well as artificial wetlands. Within the Ramsar site there are good examples of saltmarshes, estuarine wetlands and a shallow marine embayment and nearshore areas. A major unique feature of the site is the Mud Islands, which are sand islands that have been formed through the interactions of bird guano and marine waters to anchor the islands in the shifting sands.

Criterion 3: The Ramsar site is one of the most important sites in Victoria for migratory shorebirds and the Avalon-Werribee Wetlands regularly support tens of thousands of Straw-necked Ibis. Additionally, 137 native plants and 135 bird species have been recorded in Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve.

Criterion 5: Wetlands in the Ramsar site regularly support more than 20,000 waterbirds, including large numbers of migratory waders, thousands of Black Swans, ducks, ibis and cormorants. In particular, Lake Connewarre, Reedy Lake and the Water Treatment Plant support significant numbers of waterbirds during the summer months.

Criterion 6: Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula regularly supports more than 1% of the known Australian population of fourteen species: Pied Oystercatcher; Grey, Lesser Golden, Mongolian and Double-banded Plovers; Banded Stilt; Red-necked Avocet; Ruddy Turnstone; Eastern Curlew; Greenshank; Marsh, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, and Red-necked Stint.

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.