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Estuarine and marine ecosystems

Key messages

Why estuarine and marine ecosystems are important

Queensland’s estuarine and marine ecosystems (wetlands) support much of the state's native biodiversity, including migratory birds, dugongs, dolphins, turtles, and fish. They are found from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Gold Coast and include such important areas as Moreton Bay, Great Sandy Strait, Hervey Bay and the Great Barrier Reef.

Wetlands are important for our economy.  They provide nurseries for fish and help protect people and property from storm surges; they protect downstream habitats by removing sediments and transforming nutrients and pesticides—particularly crucial for the health of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef; wetlands are also great places to enjoy Queensland’s natural wonders.

Many of Queensland’s wetlands are recognised at a national and international level for their role in supporting migratory bird populations. Great Sandy Strait and Moreton, Shoalwater, Corio and Bowling Green bays are included in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance list.

Estuarine wetland extent

The extent and distribution of estuarine ecosystems (e.g. mangroves and saltmarsh/salt flat) are the most important indicators of the state of estuarine habitat resources in Queensland as any loss means diminishment of the benefits wetlands offer.

Different estuarine wetland systems provide different values to society.

Understanding the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s largest and most diverse marine ecosystems with a wide range of habitats and many thousands of different species recorded. Extending more than 2,000km, over 14 degrees of latitude—from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters—the reef is the only living structure visible from space. Within this vast expanse, a unique range of ecological communities and habitats come together to create one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.

Key findings — Estuarine

State

Extent and rate of change in estuarine wetlands

More than 96% of the pre-European settlement extent of estuarine wetlands in Queensland remained in 2013. Changes in the extent of estuarine wetlands in Queensland have been monitored since 2001. The highest rate of estuarine wetland loss was recorded during the 2009-2013 period (0.03%) mostly in the North East Coast drainage division.

Of the two broad estuarine wetland types—mangroves and salt marsh/salt flats—the greatest ongoing losses have occurred in salt marsh/salt flats in the North East Coast Drainage division yet more than 95% remain intact.

Estuarine wetlands within protected areas

Areas of managed protection covering estuarine wetlands in Queensland often overlap. Of Queensland’s estuarine wetlands, 39% are within an area of managed protection. Fish habitat areas protect 28%, highly protected marine park zones cover a 12% and protected areas a further 5%.

Condition of estuarine ecosystem health

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

Pressure

Pressures affecting estuarine ecosystems

Sediment, nutrients and chemicals are the major catchment pressures that broadly impact Queensland estuaries but vary in their relative importance between regions.

Key findings — Marine

State

Marine parks and fish habitat areas

About 17%, or 1.8 million hectares, of Queensland’s total marine wetlands are in highly protected marine park zones or declared fish habitat areas.

Condition of ecological processes

At a reef-wide scale, most ecological processes are considered to be in good condition; however the inshore southern two-thirds of the region are in decline.

Key fish stocks

The majority of Queensland’s key fish stocks are considered sustainable.

Condition of marine ecosystem health

Queensland’s marine environments vary significantly in condition. Some are in good to very good condition while others do not meet standards for water quality.

Pressure

Pressures affecting marine ecosystems

Sediment, nutrients, chemicals and litter are the major catchment pressures that broadly impact Queensland’s marine environments.

Climate change pressure on the Great Barrier Reef

At a reef-wide scale, climate related variables are already having an effect, and are predicted to continue to have far-reaching consequences for the reef ecosystem.

Coastal development pressure on the Great Barrier Reef

Changes to coastal habitat and reductions in connectivity are having an increasing effect on the region's ecosystem.

Direct use pressure on the Great Barrier Reef

At a reef-wide scale, direct use of the region is a significant economic contributor and its impact on the region’s ecosystem is projected to increase with population growth.

Land-based run-off pressure on the Great Barrier Reef

Declining marine water quality is one of the most significant threats to the reef however agricultural practices are improving, resulting in reductions in land-based run-off entering the region.

Crown-of-thorns starfish pressure on the Great Barrier Reef

Evidence suggests increased nutrient loads contribute to more frequent outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish — a major predator of coral — resulting in coral cover decline.

Invasive non-native flora and fauna species identified in marine ecosystems

Queensland remains largely free of invasive non-native marine flora and fauna species (marine pests), despite a high possibility of introduction through international shipping activity.

Programs

Wetlandinfo

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.

Healthy Land and Water South East Queensland report card

The Healthy Land and Water South East Queensland Report Card covers the 18 major river catchments from the Noosa River Catchment to the New South Wales Border, as well as the marine areas of Pumicestone Passage, Moreton Bay and the Broadwater. The report card is an annual commentary of the state of estuarine, marine and freshwater health with waterway monitoring from about 400 sites across the region.

The 2015 report card introduced new indicators, including riparian vegetation, and combined indicators to calculate one overall grade per catchment. The 2017 report card added the impact from sediment entering waterways, the extent of habitats such as riparian vegetation, and waterways’ social and economic benefits ratings. It also explored management actions needed to improve waterways health.

Gladstone Harbour  Report Card

The Gladstone Harbour Report Card reports on estuarine and marine condition in the harbour based on monitoring of ecological and biological indicators, and also reports on social, economic and cultural indicators. The report card helps enable stakeholders to have confidence in the efforts to maintain and improve the health of the harbour.

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 Report Card

The Mackay–Whitsunday Report Card, 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 helps community, industry, science, tourism and government to work together to determine what more can be done to look after our waterways.

Wet Tropics Report Card

The Wet Tropics Report Card assesses the health of the major rivers, estuaries, inshore and offshore reefs in the Wet Tropics region. The Daintree, Mossman, Barron, Mulgrave, Russell Johnstone, Tully, Murray and Herbert freshwater basins are assessed for water quality, habitat and hydrology, and fish. The report card communicates information on waterway health, enables long term trends to be identified and supports action to improve the health of Wet Tropics waterways.

Programs

Wetlandinfo

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.

Healthy Land and Water South East Queensland report card

The Healthy Land and Water South East Queensland Report Card covers the 18 major river catchments from the Noosa River Catchment to the New South Wales Border, as well as the marine areas of Pumicestone Passage, Moreton Bay and the Broadwater. The report card is an annual commentary of the state of estuarine, marine and freshwater health with waterway monitoring from about 400 sites across the region.

The 2015 report card introduced new indicators, including riparian vegetation, and combined indicators to calculate one overall grade per catchment. The 2017 report card added the impact from sediment entering waterways, the extent of habitats such as riparian vegetation, and waterways’ social and economic benefits ratings. It also explored management actions needed to improve waterways health.

Gladstone Harbour Report Card

The Gladstone Harbour Report card reports on estuarine and marine condition in the harbour based on monitoring of ecological and biological indicators, and also reports on social, economic and cultural indicators. The report card helps enable stakeholders to have confidence in the efforts to maintain and improve the health of the harbour.

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 Report Card

The Mackay–Whitsunday Report Card, 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 look after our waterways.

Wet Tropics Report Card

The Wet Tropics Report Card assesses the health of the major rivers, estuaries, inshore and offshore reefs in the Wet Tropics region. The Daintree, Mossman, Barron, Mulgrave, Russell Johnstone, Tully, Murray and Herbert freshwater basins are assessed for water quality, habitat and hydrology, and fish. The report card communicates information on waterway health, enables long term trends to be identified and supports action to improve the health of Wet Tropics waterways.

Eye on the Reef

Eye on the Reef program enables anyone who visits the Great Barrier Reef to contribute to its long-term protection by collecting valuable information about the reef health, marine animals and incidents. Contributions range from sharing photos through the app to undertaking rapid surveys of key species. All information collected through the Eye on the Reef program is combined into a centralised data reporting system available to marine park managers and researchers.

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 reports annually on inshore marine condition for the Great Barrier Reef. It also assesses progress towards the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan targets aimed at improving land management and the quality of water entering the reef. Monitoring is undertaken through the Paddock to Reef program. The marine component is delivered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Marine Monitoring Program.

Assessments of inshore marine condition include marine water quality, seagrass health and coral health.

Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report

Every five years the Outlook Report examines the Great Barrier Reef’s health, pressures and likely future. It provides a snapshot of current condition and trend of Great Barrier Reef values and threats (through theme assessments). It also examines progress in protecting the reef through an assessment of management effectiveness.

Australian Institute of Marine Monitoring

This program surveys 47 midshore and offshore reefs across the Great Barrier Reef region and represents the longest continuous record of change in reef communities over such a large geographic area. The program captures the natural variability of coral and fish populations and documents effects of disturbances such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones and bleaching events. The data provides awareness of other threats to the reef (such as outbreaks of coral disease) and other issues of concern to reef managers.

Fisheries Queensland Long-term Monitoring Program

The Fisheries Queensland Long-term Monitoring Program collects fishery data for key fish species and stocks to inform fisheries management and stock status assessments.

Last updated 26 October 2018

Assessment summary

See an overview of gradings for estuarine and marine ecosystems in the assessment summary.