Australian Wetlands Database

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Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area (Shoalwater Bay Training Area, in part - Corio Bay)


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

11 March 1996

The intertidal area of Corio Bay,  Photo: M. O'Brien

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6




Total area: approximately 239 100 hectares
Intertidal area: 25 900 hectares. (Broome Head, SWBTA and Corio Bay).

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

North-East Coast; Northeast Shelf Province

Wetland type: 

  • A - Permanent shallow marine waters in most cases less than six metres deep at low tide; includes sea bays and straits
  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • 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

Key features of the site:

The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area (Shoalwater Bay Training Area, in part - Corio Bay) Ramsar site is located about 50 km north of Rockhampton, Queensland. The majority of the site is set around Shoalwater Bay in the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area (SWBTA) and includes adjacent lands and marine waters from Broome Head in the north to the southern boundary of the SWBTA. The other component of the site includes the intertidal areas of Corio Bay in the south.

The area contains a wide diversity of landscape types including undulating lowlands and hills, riverine plains, swamps, estuarine inlets, old beach ridges, dunes, sand beaches flanked by coastal cliffs, and intertidal sand and mudflats. The wetland types on the site include freshwater lagoons, swamps and streams, leading into marine, estuarine and intertidal wetlands.

The site is located in a zone where the temperate climate merges into tropical and sub-tropical climates. The climatic gradient, diversity of geomorphology and good condition of the site has resulted in a rich diversity of species. The site supports about 791 plant species and sub-species, 445 fish species, 22 frog species, 66 reptiles species, 226 birds species, 24 mammal species and 23 bat species.

Nationally threatened species that occur at the site include the Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Flatback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Honey Blue-eye fish and Oxleyan Pygmy Perch.

Dozens of migratory bird species protected under international conservation agreements have been recorded at the site. The site has been identified as being of international importance to the migratory Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel and Great Knot. A range of other wetland birds and shorebirds feed and breed in the area.

The Shoalwater Bay area has been gazetted as a Defence Practice Area under the Defence Act 1903, and is used primarily for defence activities. Corio Bay is part of Queensland's Byfield National Park used primarily for conservation and recreation activities. The area is part of the traditional lands of the Darumbal people. The dune fields contain archaeological sites including shell middens, scatters of stone tools and dinner camp sites.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area (Shoalwater Bay Training Area, in part - Corio Bay) Ramsar site meets six of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area Ramsar site is in the North-east Coast Australian Drainage Division. It contains the largest area in central east Queensland of representative coastal, subcoastal and aquatic landscapes and ecosystems in a relatively undisturbed state. The area represents one of a very few large estuarine systems that retains a relatively undisturbed catchment.

Criterion 2: The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area Ramsar site supports populations of the threatened Green Turtle, Flatback Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle and the endangered Loggerhead Turtle. The site also supports the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 listed Dugong.

Criterion 3: The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area contain a high diversity of freshwater, marine and estuarine fish species, with 445 species recorded. Eighteen species of mangroves occur in the area. There are at least 10 species of seagrass present, with seagrass beds extending to depths of 20m due to water clarity. The site is of special value as habitat for endemic fish species. The mangrove, tidal mudflats and saltflats are important habitats for local and migratory shorebirds, including 26 species protected under international migratory bird conservation agreements.

Criterion 4: This Ramsar site provides nesting sites for turtles and critical feeding areas for turtles and Dugongs. It also provides breeding sites for the Beach Stone-Curlew.

Criterion 5: The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area Ramsar site supports over 20,000 waterbirds in summer.

Criterion 6: Six species of migratory shorebirds have been recorded in the Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area Ramsar site at numbers exceeding 1% of their population in the East Asian Australasian Flyway, including the Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel and Great Knot.

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.