Aquatic ecosystems


Aquatic ecosystems are collectively the wet parts of the environment. They can be rivers, streams, swamps, lakes, estuaries, marine systems, and underground aquifers. They have biodiversity values as well as resource values and provide many services to the environment and humankind. These can be provisional (food and water), regulatory (floods, droughts), supporting (soil formation, nutrient cycling) and cultural (recreational, spiritual) (MEA 20051).

Identifying and understanding the importance of aquatic ecosystems is a difficult and time-consuming process. Some tools to do this have been developed in Australia by different authorities and researchers, but until now, there has not been a nationally consistent framework for mapping and classifying aquatic ecosystems, identifying high ecological value aquatic ecosystems (HEVAE) through the systematic application of ecological criteria, delineating and describing aquatic ecosystems, and assessing their ecological condition.

The Aquatic Ecosystems Toolkit

The Aquatic Ecosystems Toolkit has been prepared, in collaboration with states and territories, as a set of good practice tools designed for this purpose. The original driver for the development of the toolkit was to assist jurisdictions in benchmarking approaches to meeting commitments under the National Water Initiative. However, the tools that were developed have broader applicability in achieving natural resource management outcomes.

Broadly, use of the tools can also provide input into:

  • environmental flow allocation and water management
  • planning, investment and management decisions for aquatic ecosystems
  • the identification of HEVAE of national, regional and local importance
  • improved knowledge of the extent, distribution and characteristics of HEVAE
  • cross-jurisdictional coordination and cooperation
  • information sharing between NRM bodies, governments and other stakeholders
  • meeting national and international obligations for the protection of aquatic ecosystems.

The Toolkit consists of five modules, each providing guidance on the application of the major Toolkit components:

In addition, Guidelines published under the Ramsar Guidance Series, National Guidelines for the Mapping of Wetlands (Aquatic Ecosystems) in Australia, developed by the Wetlands and Waterbirds Task Force, will be included in the Toolkit in the future.


1 MEA (2005). Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water-Synthesis . World Resources Institute, Washington DC.