Western District Lakes Ramsar site Ecological Character Description

J. Hale and R. Butcher for Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011

About the document

An Ecological Character Description describes the ecological character of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar site). The Ecological Character Description is a fundamental management tool for site managers, forming the basis of management planning and action as well as including guidance on site monitoring requirements to detect changes in the ecological character of the site.

The Western District Lakes Ramsar site is located in south-west Victoria near the town of Colac. The site is comprised of nine separate lakes, including Lake Corangamite. At the time of listing (1982), the site supported two nationally threatened flora species and supported waterbirds at critical life stages such as breeding, moulting and migration. There is also evidence that site regularly supported over 20,000 waterbirds and more than 1% of the population of at least four waterbird species. As such, Western District Lakes met five of the nine Ramsar Convention criteria at the time of listing.

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 the Western District 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 the Ramsar wetland. Recommended monitoring needs and communication messages are provided.

Note: 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 listed as a Wetland of International Importance.

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.

At the time this Ecological Character Description was prepared, one or more limits of acceptable change had been exceeded for the Western District Lakes Ramsar site. The Australian Government has commenced a preliminary assessment of potential change in ecological character for this Ramsar site, in consultation with the Victorian Government.

Further information

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.