Implementing the National Framework and Guidance for describing the ecological character of Australian Ramsar wetlands

This page provides information on the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands which was agreed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 12 June 2008 and applies to all future ecological character descriptions.


The Ramsar Convention defines ecological character as ‘the combination of the ecosystem components, processes, benefits and services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.

The ecological character description (ECD) of a wetland is designed to provide a description of a Ramsar listed wetland at the time of listing. It can be used to assist in the assessment of possible change in the ecological character of a given site. ECDs may also be used to:

  • develop management plans or management arrangements designed to maintain the ecological character of the site
  • inform the design of monitoring programs
  • assist in reporting to the Australian Government and the Ramsar Convention about any changes in the ecological character of Ramsar sites, and
  • assess the likely impact on ecological character of proposed actions, including those that are subject to the provisions of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Preparing ecological character descriptions

ECDs should be prepared using the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands. All ECDs must contain the agreed minimum set of information outlined in the Framework.

There may be differences in the type of information contained in ECDs that began development prior to agreement to the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands by the Natural Resources Management Ministerial Council in 2008. These ECDs will be progressively updated over time to reflect the requirements of the national framework.

Existing Ramsar sites

ECDs are being prepared for all of Australia's Ramsar-listed wetlands. Four factsheets have been prepared to explain the purpose and advise on the key concepts used in ECDs:

The ECDs listed below have been prepared using a variety of funding sources including a range of national and regional Natural Heritage Trust funds, and some state and territory funds.

Completed ECDs include:

Process for endorsement

It is recommended that site managers and jurisdictions consult with the Department during the development of an ECD. Once completed to the satisfaction of the site manager and the relevant jurisdiction, ECDs must be forwarded to the Department of the Environment for assessment against the ECD Framework requirements.

If the ECD meets these requirements the Australian Government will then endorse the ECD and submit it to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat. At this time the land manager and relevant jurisdiction will be notified of the endorsement. If the ECD does not meet the requirements then site managers and the relevant jurisdiction will be informed of the changes that need to be made.

ECDs for Ramsar site nominations

For Ramsar site nominations, a final or a substantial draft of an ECD for the site will be required before the nomination can be considered for approval by the Australian Government Minister for the Environment. Further information is available in the Australian Ramsar site nomination guidelines

When is a new ECD required?

A new ECD may be required if the wetland undergoes human-induced changes or if the wetland undergoes natural evolutionary change. In such cases the ecological character of the wetland may change to the extent that a new baseline is required for assessing impacts of proposed actions and for monitoring and evaluating future change. For example, if a wetland is used for water storage, the limits of acceptable change will be related to a water regime that is limited by its use as a water storage facility. If it was decided that the wetland was no longer required for water storage and was to be restored to a 'natural' state, the wetland would become quite different in nature (e.g. the water regime would be related to natural inflow) and the ECD should reflect this. An updated Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS) should be prepared at the same time as the new ECD.

When can an ECD be updated?

An ECD can be updated in the following circumstances:

  1. If further substantial data, knowledge or resources are available to improve the original description. In such cases the aim would be to expand on, clarify and refine the original baseline, not to establish a new baseline by describing a more recent, changed ecological state
  2. If the boundaries of the site are extended, reduced or modified, in which case the RIS for Ramsar sites and the ECD should be re-examined and updated where required.

The original ECD should be retained and an updated version prepared. An updated RIS should be prepared at the same time as the updated ECD.

Implementation at other sites

The Framework can also be used to prepare ECDs for non-Ramsar wetlands including for other high ecological value aquatic ecosystems.

Further Information

For further information see Australia’s national guidance for Ramsar wetlands – Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia