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Freshwater wetland ecosystems

Key Messages

  • Queensland’s freshwater ecosystems or wetlands are important habitats. They are found from the tip of Cape York to the Gold Coast, and 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 internationally 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 Currawinya Lakes in western Queensland.

  • The extent and distribution of freshwater wetlands is the most important indicator of the state of wetland resources in Queensland. Any loss means services provided by a wetland are diminished.

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

  • 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.


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 2017. Changes in the extent of freshwater wetlands have been monitored in Queensland since 2001. The rate of freshwater wetland loss reduced to 0.05% during 2005–2009 and 0.02% in 2009–2013. Between 2013 and 2017 that rate has increased to 0.13% due to agricultural expansion and infrastructure development.

Of the 3 freshwater wetland systems — lacustrine, palustrine, riverine — the greatest ongoing losses have occurred in riverine and palustrine systems in the Gulf and North East Coast Drainage (Great Barrier Reef) divisions.

Freshwater wetland systems within protected areas

Almost 10% of ‘natural’ or ‘low modified’ 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, pesticides 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 invasive 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 Land and Water South East Queensland Report Card

The Healthy Land and Water South East Queensland Report Card covers 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.

An environmental condition grade is calculated based on 25 indicators for each of the catchments to assess key freshwater and estuarine aspects of the waterways. Indicators are assessed against established guidelines and benchmarks, resulting in the single grade for each catchment.

Reef Water Quality Report Card and Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef Program)

The Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017–2022 seeks to improve the quality of water flowing from the catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The plan builds on previous water quality plans by setting separate targets for reducing water pollution from each catchment to enable better prioritisation of actions.

The Reef Water Quality Report Card 2017 and 2018 assess the results of Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan’s actions reported up to June 2018. For the first time, the results in the Report Card are reported at a finer catchment and sub-catchment scale.

The Paddock to Reef Program provides the framework for evaluating and reporting progress towards the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan targets and objectives through the report card. Monitoring and modelling of water quality occurs across a range of attributes, from paddock scale through to sub-catchment, catchment, regional and Great Barrier Reef-wide. The Paddock to Reef program evaluates management practice adoption and effectiveness, catchment condition, pollutant run-off and inshore marine 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–Isaac  Report Card

The Mackay–Whitsunday–Isaac Report Card, reports on the health of the region’s waterways, including the catchments of the Don, Proserpine, Pioneer, O’Connell and Plane basins, 8 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.

Townsville Dry Tropics Report Card

Released in 2019, the pilot report card provides information on the ecological condition of waterways, and the community and economic benefits provided by waterways. The results on the condition of freshwater basins, estuarine/coastal, inshore marine and offshore marine environments within the Townsville Dry Tropics region are detailed. The results provide scores and grades for indicators, indicator categories, indices, and overall scores for the categories of Water, Biodiversity, Community and Economy within 7 zones. The report card additionally includes a qualitative confidence measure for each score for the indicator categories within Water and Biodiversity. The confidence is based on the accuracy of the data used in the analysis.

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.