Australian Wetlands Database

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Roebuck Bay


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

07 June 1990

Roebuck Bay, Photo: Clive Minton

Australian Ramsar site number:



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


Western Australia


34 119 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Northern IMCRA Province; Tanami-Timor Sea Coast

Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • 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

Key features of the site:

The Roebuck Bay Ramsar site is located at Roebuck Bay near Broome in north Western Australia. Roebuck Bay has a very large tidal range which exposes around 160 square kilometres of mudflat, covering most of the Ramsar site. Waters more than 6 m deep at low tide are excluded from the site. The eastern edge of the site is made up of microscale linear tidal creeks.

The site receives tidal seawater as well as fresh surface and groundwater, and the balance between the two influences the residual groundwater salinity and the distribution of plants and animals. Mangrove swamps line the eastern and southern edges of the site, and extend up into the linear tidal creeks. They are important nursery areas for marine fishes and crustacea, particularly prawns.

Extensive seagrass beds occur in the bay, providing an important feeding ground for dugong and green turtle. Dolphins and nationally threatened turtles also regularly use the site.

The intertidal mud and sand flats support a high abundance of bottom dwelling invertebrates, which are a key food source for waterbirds. The site is one of the most important migration stopover areas for shorebirds in Australia and globally. For many shorebirds, Roebuck Bay is the first Australian landfall they reach on the East Asian Australasian Flyway. The total numbers of waders using the site each year is estimated at over 300 000. The northern beaches and Bush Point provide important high tide roost sites.

The site is used for recreational or tourism activities such as fishing, crabbing, sightseeing and bird watching. Broome Bird Observatory, a small reserve at the northern end of the site, engages in shorebird research and public education.

Roebuck Bay lies in the traditional estate of indigenous people belonging to both Jukun and Yawuru groups. The site was an important area for seasonal meetings, exchanging gifts, arranging marriages and settling disputes. Numerous shellfish middens, marking former camping places, can still be seen along coastal cliffs and dunes. Indigenous people continue to make extensive use of Roebuck Bay's natural resources for activities such as gathering shellfish, fishing and hunting.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Roebuck Bay Ramsar site meets seven of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: The site is a superb example of a tropical marine embayment within the Northwest (IMCRA) bioregion. It is one of only a dozen intertidal flats worldwide where benthic food sources are found in sufficient densities that they regularly support internationally significant numbers of waders.

Criterion 2: Loggerhead turtles (nationally endangered) and green turtles (nationally vulnerable) regularly use the site as a seasonal feeding area and as a transit area on migration. Flatback turtles (nationally vulnerable) regularly nest in small numbers around Cape Villaret during the summer months. Sawfish (nationally endangered) regularly use the tidal creeks and mangrove areas for breeding and refuge.

Criterion 3: The site supports a significant component of the regional (Northwest IMCRA bioregion) intertidal and shallow marine biodiversity in terms of the marine mammals (dugong, turtles and dolphin), marine invertebrate infauna, and avian fauna across the site. The total density of macrobenthic animals (1 287 individuals per m2) is high by global standards for a tropical mudflat and species richness is very high (estimated to be between 300 to 500 species).

Criterion 4: The site is one of the most important migration stopover areas for shorebirds in Australia and globally. It is the arrival and departure point for large proportions of the Australian populations of several shorebird species, notably bar-tailed godwit and great knot. The site provides essential energy replenishment for many migrating species, some of which fly non-stop between continental East Asia and Australia.

Criterion 5: The site regularly supports over 100 000 waterbirds. The highest number of shorebirds counted at the site was 170 915 in October 1983 and allowing for turnover, the total number of shorebirds using the site may exceed 300 000 annually. It is the fourth most important site for waders in Australia in terms of absolute numbers and the most important in terms of the number of species it supports in internationally significant numbers.

Criterion 6: The site regularly supports at least one per cent of the population of at least 22 wader species (20 migratory and two resident species).

Criterion 8: The site is important as a nursery and/or breeding and/or feeding ground for at least five species of fish and for mudcrabs and prawns. The site’s mangal system is particularly important as a nursery area for marine fishes 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.