Icon sites along the River Murray

The icon sites are a collection of important locations along the River Murray, selected for their high ecological value and cultural significance.

The focus of The Living Murray program — a joint partnership between the MDBA, Australian Government and Basin state governments — is to improve the environmental health of these sites through environmental watering (both planning and delivery) and monitoring, to ensure our communities can continue to enjoy the River Murray for years to come.

Each site is regionally and nationally significant to Aboriginal and other communities and most are recognised internationally under the Ramsar Convention — an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Barmah–Millewa Forest

An aerial photo of the Barmah-Millewa Forest. Photo by Keith Ward.
An aerial photo of the Barmah–Millewa Forest. Photo by Keith Ward.

The Barmah–Millewa Forest icon site is the largest river red gum forest in Australia. It spans the New South Wales and Victorian border, and includes 66,000 ha of wetlands. It is an ecological hotspot for native plants, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.

The vision for the icon site is to maintain and, where practicable, enhance the ecological character of the Barmah–Millewa floodplain.

The Barmah–Millewa Forest is also part of a Ramsar site (internationally significant wetland) and is on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. It contains the largest area of Moira grass plains in the Basin, which are important as feeding and breeding resources for large flocks of colonial waterbirds.

The forest has significant spiritual and cultural significance for local Yorta Yorta Aboriginal people who continue to play an important role in managing the area.

River regulation has reduced the number of small to medium sized flood events. Depending on climate, catchment and river conditions — environmental water has been used in a number of ways to support the health of the site. At times environmental water is used to build on natural flows to extend the area of inundation or duration of events.

At other times environmental water has been important by providing refuge in times of drought, or extending flows to allow waterbirds to finish nesting. Environmental water not taken up by the floodplain returns naturally to the river, where it may be used to support watering at downstream sites.

Watch a video about watering the world’s largest river red gum forest.

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

Gunbower–Koondrook–Pericoota Forest

Gunbower Forest in flood. Photo by David Kleinert.
Gunbower Forest in flood. Photo by David Kleinert.

Gunbower Forest and Koondrook–Perricoota Forest together form an icon site that straddles the River Murray.

This 51,081 ha area is a large mosaic of river red gum (Australia’s second largest such area), black box and grey box communities, interspersed by diverse and rare wetland ecosystems.

It is home to endangered flora and fauna, including internationally-recognised migratory waterbirds. Many thousands of colonial waterbirds nest when the area is inundated.

The site is also of high cultural and social value: providing many recreational opportunities and of spiritual significance for the local Aboriginal peoples.

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

Hattah Lakes

Hattah Lakes. Photo by Corey Brown.
Hattah Lakes. Photo by Corey Brown.

The Hattah Lakes system is located within the 48,000 ha Hattah–Kulkyne National Park, about 60 km south of Mildura in north-west Victoria. In a semi-arid area, this site includes over 20 semi-permanent freshwater lakes (Ramsar-listed) which support black box and river red gum communities plus a variety of native animals.

The lakes are therefore very important as drought refuge and as breeding places for waterbirds (including Eurasian coots and banded stilts), regent parrots, frogs, turtles and are also native fish breeding sites (including Murray rainbowfish and carp gudgeon).

The area is valued for fishing, camping and has significant cultural value for Traditional Owners — the Latji Latji and the Nyeri Nyeri.

The wetlands rely on regular wet and dry periods to be healthy; however, river regulation has reduced the frequency and duration of watering events. During the decade-long millennium drought no water entered the area. This has had a negative impact on the wetland environment.

Watch the 'Returning water to Hattah Lakes' videos:

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

Chowilla Floodplain and the Lindsay–Wallpolla Islands

Wallpolla Island after receiving water. Photo by Corey Brown.
Wallpolla Island after receiving water. Photo by Corey Brown.

The Chowilla Floodplains–Lindsay–Wallpolla islands icon site covers over 17,000 ha across South Australia and New South Wales. The Chowilla Floodplain is managed by South Australia, and the Lindsay–Wallpolla islands are managed by Parks Victoria.

Chowilla is an important ecological site. It is part of the Ramsar Riverland wetlands site of international importance.

The site provides critical summer or stopover habitat for migratory birds and is a major colonial waterbird nesting site when flooded — flocks of 20,000 or more involving 59 species are known.

It also supports nationally threatened species such as the regent parrot, southern bell frog, Murray cod, and the Murray hardyhead (and 14 of the 26 freshwater native fish species of the Basin).

The floodplain had experienced severe ecological decline, due to long periods without flooding. This decline was made significantly worse by the millennium drought.

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

Lower Lakes, the Coorong and Murray Mouth

An aerial view of the Murray Mouth and the Coorong. Photo by Michael Bell.
An aerial view of the Murray Mouth and the Coorong. Photo by Michael Bell.

This 130 km long area where the River Murray meets the Southern Ocean in South Australia is a The Living Murray icon site and Ramsar site of international importance for migratory waterbirds.

Covering over 140,000 ha, the site includes 23 different wetland types that range from fresh water to ‘saltier than the sea’. At times, these act as drought refuge for threatened waterbirds and native fish.

This complex environment is one of 10 major Australian havens for large concentrations of wading birds. It supports the greatest wealth of waterbird species in the Murray–Darling Basin, is home to the endangered orange-bellied parrot and is a breeding ground for many species of native fish, including Murray cod.

It is also a very popular recreation and tourism area and is central to the cultural and spiritual life of the Ngarrindjeri people.

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

The Drought Emergency Framework for Lakes Alexandrina and Albert provides more information about how the Lower Lakes are managed in times of extreme drought.

River Murray Channel

The River Murray at Betha Bend, east of Gunbower, Victoria. Photo by Arthur Mostead.
The River Murray at Betha Bend, east of Gunbower, Victoria. Photo by Arthur Mostead.

The River Murray Channel icon site extends over 2,200 km from the Hume Dam in Victoria to Wellington in South Australia.

The channel links the forests, floodplains, wetlands and estuaries along the River Murray, including the other The Living Murray icon sites.

It provides habitat for many native plants, fish and animals, while its banks support river red gum forests of high natural and cultural value.

Learn more about the ecological objectives and recent watering events for this icon site.

Read more about how we use PIT tagging to track fish movements in the River Murray.