Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetland


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

01 November 1985

A long, shallow saline lagoon of the Coorong, Photo: Theresa Myburgh

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8


South Australia


Total Area 140,500 hectares (approx.)

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:


Wetland type: 

  • 6 - Water storage areas; reservoirs/barrages/dams/impoundments (generally over 8 ha)
  • F - Estuarine waters; permanent water of estuaries and estuarine systems of deltas
  • J - Coastal brackish/saline lagoons; brackish to saline lagoons with at least one relatively narrow connection to the sea
  • M - Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls
  • O - Permanent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes large oxbow lakes
  • Q - Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline lakes

Key features of the site:

The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site is located at the downstream end of the Murray River, in south-east South Australia. It is also a Living Murray Icon site. The Murray River flows into Lake Alexandrina and out to the Southern Ocean through the Murray Mouth Estuary. Lake Albert is a terminal lake connected to Lake Alexandrina by a narrow channel. Its primary source of water is from Lake Alexandrina, supplemented by groundwater discharge and surface water runoff.

The Coorong is a long, shallow, brackish to hypersaline lagoon more than 100 km in length separated from the Southern Ocean by a narrow sand dune peninsula. Saline waters of the Coorong lagoons and Murray Mouth Estuary are prevented from entering the Lakes and the Murray River by a series of barrages built in the 1930's.

Twenty-three wetland types have been identified in the Ramsar site, including estuarine waters, coastal brackish/saline lagoons, permanent freshwater lakes, permanent freshwater marshes, and seasonally flooded agricultural land.

The Ramsar site supports some threatened ecological communities and species, as well as extensive and diverse waterbird, fish and plant assemblages. Submerged aquatic plant communities with species such as Ribbon Weed are important components of the food chain, particularly for waders and waterbirds.

The site supports threatened Chaffy Saw-sedge vegetation community, and threatened plant species such as the Silver Daisy-bush and Metallic Sun-orchid. Threatened animal species include the Southern Bell Frog, Murray Cod, and Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren.

The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert are also an important area for waterbirds. At least 85 bird species, including the Australasian Bittern, Glossy Ibis and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, have been recorded from the Ramsar site, 25 of which are listed under international migratory conservation agreements.

The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert and Murray Mouth are important lands for the local Ngarrindjeri people, who have a strong spiritual and cultural connection to the land. There are many traditional and archaeological sites. The Ramsar site is currently used for several purposes including conservation, recreation, water storage and extraction, grazing and cropping, and urban and residential development.

The prolonged drought in south-eastern Australia, extraction of high volumes of water for human consumption and other uses, and the early impacts of climate change are having adverse impacts on water availability at the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site meets eight of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: A total of twenty-three Ramsar wetland types are found in the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site, including intertidal mud, sand or salt flats, coastal brackish/saline lagoons, permanent freshwater lakes, permanent freshwater marshes/pools, shrub-dominated wetlands, and water storage areas. The site is unique in its wide representation of wetland types within the bioregion.

Criterion 2: The threatened swamps of the Fleurieu Peninsula ecological community is partially found within the Ramsar site and is characterised by reedy or heathy vegetation on peat, silt, peat silt or black clay soils. The threatened Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren is found within these swamps. Other threatened species include the Orange-bellied Parrot, Southern Bell Frog, Murray Cod, and Yarra Pygmy Perch. There are six threatened plant species including the Silver Daisy-bush, Sandhill Greenhood and Scarlet Grevillea.

Criterion 3: In addition to the threatened community and species listed under Criterion 2 above, the Ramsar site also supports another vegetation community, the Gahnia sedgelands, and several species of note, including the Murray Hardyhead, Dwarf Flathead Gudgeon, Australasian Bittern, and Hooded Plover, that contribute to the biological diversity of the site.

Criterion 4: A large number of fish and bird species are supported by the Ramsar site during critical stages of their life cycles. Several fish species move between fresh, estuarine and marine waters at various stages of their life to breed, including the Common Galaxias and Estuary Perch. Forty-nine species of birds use the site, including 25 species listed under international migratory conservation agreements, as well as many resident species that breed within the site or rely on it during adverse conditions.

Criterion 5: A significant number of waterbird species use the Ramsar site, at times reaching numbers far in excess of the 20,000 required under the criterion. This includes species listed under international migratory conservation agreements, as well as species where the numbers are a significant proportion of their global population.

Criterion 6: Sixteen species of waterbirds have been recorded in numbers greater than the required 1% of the global population, including the Cape Barren Goose, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Avocet and Fairy Tern.

Criterion 7: The Ramsar site is considered significant for 49 species of fish due to both the diversity of species as well as the diversity of their form and structure, and breeding styles, including migration habits between fresh, estuarine and marine waters for breeding.

Criterion 8: Most of the 49 species of fish identified in Criterion 7 are reliant on the Ramsar site wetlands for food, spawning ground, and nursery areas.

In November 2005 at Ramsar's 9th Conference an additional criterion was added as follows:
Criterion 9: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.

In 2006 it was not possible to confirm that the site also qualifies against this additional criterion. It is possible that it does for some of the native fish species found within the site, but there are insufficient population data for these species at the time of the Ramsar Information Sheet update to be able to make such a conclusion.

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.