Freshwater wetland ecosystems

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Key messages

Why freshwater wetland ecosystems are important

Queensland’s freshwater ecosystems or wetlands are important habitats. They are found from the tip of Cape York to the Gold Coast, and west from the coast to the semi-arid south-west corner of the state. They include rivers (riverine), lakes (lacustrine) and swamps (palustrine).

Queensland’s wetlands support the state's native biodiversity, including migratory birds, frogs, fish and threatened species. Wetlands are important for our economy because they provide nurseries for fish and water for farming. They also protect people and property from storms and floods.

Wetlands remove sediments and transform nutrients and pesticides—protecting other downstream habitats, including Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Wetlands are also great places to relax and enjoy Queensland’s natural wonders.

Many of Queensland’s wetlands are international important habitat for migratory birds. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance includes 5 Queensland wetlands, among them Moreton Bay in South East Queensland and Bowling Green Bay in North Queensland.

Freshwater wetland extent

The extent and distribution of freshwater wetlands is the most important indicator of the state of wetland resources in Queensland; any loss will mean that the services provided by that wetland will be diminished.

Different wetland systems provide different values to society. These values can vary throughout the state and can be affected by changes in extent.

Freshwater non-native invasive species

Information on non-native invasive species can provide an indicator of freshwater wetland ecosystem health and give us a better understanding of the pressures being faced by native freshwater species.

Eradication of non-native invasive freshwater fauna species (e.g. pest fish) is difficult, if not impossible, once established.

Invasive freshwater flora species (aquatic weeds) can place significant pressures on freshwater wetland ecosystem health. While difficult to eradicate, we know that the successful removal of non-native invasive species encourages native plant and animal populations to re-establish, and that this enables a return to healthier freshwater wetland ecosystems.

Key findings


Extent and rate of change of freshwater wetland systems

More than 94% of the pre-European settlement extent of freshwater wetlands in Queensland remained in 2013. Changes in the extent of freshwater wetlands have been monitored in Queensland since 2001. Wetland loss peaked at a rate of 0.12% during 2001-2005. The rate of freshwater wetland loss reduced to 0.04% during 2005-2009 and 0.03% in 2009-2013.

Of the three freshwater wetland systems—lacustrine, palustrine, riverine—the greatest ongoing losses have occurred in palustrine and riverine systems in the Murray Darling and North East Coast Drainage divisions.

Freshwater wetland systems within protected areas

Eight per cent of freshwater wetlands in Queensland are within protected areas. The majority are palustrine systems and are within national parks.

Condition of riverine ecosystem health

Queensland's freshwater aquatic ecosystems vary significantly in condition. Some are in good to very good condition while others do not meet standards for water quality.


Pressures affecting riverine ecosystems

Sediment, nutrients and chemicals, and the loss of riparian forests are the major catchment pressures that broadly impact Queensland’s freshwater rivers but vary in their relative importance between regions.

Invasive non-native freshwater fauna species

Invasive non-native fauna species, particularly pest fish, are relatively widespread in some sections of Queensland’s freshwater ecosystems and have the potential to degrade and modify aquatic environments as well as displace native species.

Invasive non-native freshwater flora species

Invasive non-native flora species can have significant impacts on freshwater ecosystems including smothering native vegetation, blocking creeks, reducing water quality by preventing light penetration, reducing oxygenation of water, and choking out fish and other aquatic wildlife.


Healthy Waterways South East Queensland report card

The Healthy Waterways Report Card commenced in 2000 with estuarine and marine monitoring, adding freshwater in 2002. The report card includes the results of waterway monitoring from more than 600 sites across the region, including fresh, estuarine and marine water quality, mud sampling, fish sampling and seagrass mapping collected in the previous financial year by Queensland Government scientists. The Healthy Waterways Report Card reports annually on the condition and trend of South East Queensland (SEQ) waterways to understand and communicate the health of waterways, and identify issues that require intervention.

The 2015 report card introduced new indicators, including riparian vegetation, and combines indicators to calculate one overall grade per catchment: it combines freshwater streams and estuarine environments and integrates creeks into catchments to provide a holistic overview of catchment condition.

Fitzroy Basin Report Card

The Fitzroy Basin Report Card reports on aquatic ecosystem health of freshwater and estuarine condition for the Fitzroy Basin, as well as drinking water results for Rockhampton and Central Highlands. The report card helps inform whether current management strategies are proving successful in maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems and helps guide and improve planning and investments towards improved aquatic ecosystem health by governments and all partner organisations.

Mackay-Whitsunday Pilot Report Card

The Mackay–Whitsunday Pilot Report Card, released in October 2015, reports on the health of the region’s waterways, including the catchments of the Don, Proserpine, Pioneer, O’Connell and Plane basins, eight estuaries, and the inshore and offshore marine areas to the eastern boundary of the Great Barrier Reef. The report card will help community, industry, science, tourism and government to work together to determine what more can be done to look after our waterways.

Condamine Catchment Report Card

The Condamine Catchment Report Card 2013 is a one-off report card supported by technical reports. It reports on catchment condition (water, land and wildlife). The report card aims to raise awareness in the region, engage current and potential stakeholders and improve knowledge by summarising robust and detailed scientific studies in an easy-to-understand format.

Great Barrier Reef Report Card and Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef Program)

The Great Barrier Reef Report Card measures progress towards the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan goal and targets for improved water quality, land and catchment management. The Paddock to Reef program combines monitoring and modelling to assess reductions in sediment, nutrients and pesticides at the end of catchments that flow to the reef. The area of agricultural land managed using best practice systems is also assessed, along with key catchment health indicators such as groundcover, riparian extent and the extent and improvement in ecological processes and environmental values of natural wetlands.

QCatchments program

The QCatchments program can be scaled up or down from province to catchment level depending on information needs. The program moves across the state depending on priorities, with assessments generally undertaken to support water planning assessments. The QCatchments program identifies priority threats to aquatic ecosystems, reports on the condition of the ecosystem, improves understanding of ecosystem processes and the influence of threats, and guides natural resource decision-making processes.

Surface Water Quantity and Quality Networks and Groundwater Level and Quality Networks

The networks assess the state's water resource availability by providing data for hydrologic analysis, operation and management activities to ensure the productive and responsible use of natural resources.

Annual Pest Distribution Survey

Annual pest distribution surveys provide data on distribution of weed and pest animal species (does not include pest fish).


Wetlandinfo provides detailed information of the state’s wetlands (including lakes, swamps, rivers, estuaries and oceans) based on an innovative mapping and classification methodology. It uses existing information including water body mapping derived from Landsat satellite imagery, regional ecosystem mapping, topographic data, and the Species Recovery Information Gateway (Spring) database to provide consistent, detailed and high resolution wetland mapping for the whole of Queensland.