Coongie Lakes Ramsar Site Ecological Character Description

Butcher R. and Hale J., 2011

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities


An Ecological Character Description describes the ecological character of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Wetland of International Importance. The Ecological Character Description is a fundamental management tool for site managers, providing a baseline which can inform management planning and action as well as providing guidance on site monitoring requirements to detect changes in the ecological character of the site.

The Coongie Lakes Ramsar site is located in the north east corner of South Australia near the town of Innamincka approximately 1046 kilometres north of Adelaide. The boundary of the site is a triangle and includes the Cooper Creek system from the South Australian – Queensland border downstream to Lake Hope (Lake Pando), the northwest branch of Cooper Creek, the northern overflow and their many waterholes and terminal lakes covering an area of over  two million hectares. The site was listed as a Ramsar site in 1987.

The ecological character of a wetland is the sum of all the critical components, processes and services of that wetland. Ecosystem components are physical, chemical and biological parts of a wetland, from large-scale to very small-scale (e.g. habitat, species and genes). Ecosystem processes are the dynamic forces within an ecosystem. They include all those processes that occur between organisms and within and between populations and communities, including interactions with the non-living environment that result in existing ecosystems and bring about changes in ecosystems over time. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from ecosystems.

This document describes the critical components, processes and services for Coongie Lakes Ramsar site and identifies limits of acceptable change and knowledge gaps in relation to those critical components, processes and services. The Ecological Character Description also describes the relevant Ramsar listing criteria and key threats for Coongie Lakes Ramsar site. Recommended monitoring needs and communication messages are provided.


Ecological Character Descriptions include a description of limits of acceptable change in order to provide a better understanding of the ecological character of the wetland. Limits of acceptable change are defined as the variation that is considered acceptable in a particular component or process of the ecological character of the wetland, without indicating change in ecological character that may lead to a reduction or loss of the criteria for which the site was Ramsar listed.

When a limit of acceptable change is not met or has been exceeded this may require investigation to determine whether there has been a change in ecological character within the meaning of the Ramsar Convention.

Further information

Further information on what Ecological Character Descriptions are and how critical components, processes and services are identified is available in the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands – Module 2 of the National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands – Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia.

For more information on identifying and notifying change in ecological character, please refer to:

A factsheet is also available on limits of acceptable change.