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Significant environmental sites

The landscape, water resources, plants and animals of the Murray–Darling Basin have combined to create some unique habitats and ecosystems.

Particular sites are significant because they are a rare example of a particular ecosystem; others contain habitat for rare or endangered species, while others provide habitat for migratory bird species. Some sites are also significant because they hold spiritual or cultural significance for First Nations people. In some cases, a wetland or river site may be significant for several of the above reasons.

Nationally important sites

Great Cumbung Swamp on the Lachlan River in New South Wales.
Great Cumbung Swamp on the Lachlan River in New South Wales.

There are more than 900 nationally important wetlands in Australia. These are wetlands that provide a good example of a typical wetland environment in a particular area, important habitat for native species, or outstanding heritage or cultural significance. Nationally important wetlands are listed on the directory of important wetlands in Australia.

The Basin contains over 100 sites that are registered as nationally important. Examples of these wetlands include:

Internationally important sites

Some of the nationally important wetlands of the Basin, or sites within the wetland, have gained recognition as internationally important and are included on the list of wetlands of international importance developed under the Ramsar Convention. Some examples of these wetlands include:

Iconic River Murray sites

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

Given their value, Basin ministers agreed to establish The Living Murray program in 2003.

The program is designed to restore the health of the River Murray system, by recovering 500 gigalitres (GL) of water and constructing major water management structures at 6 icon sites:

  • Barmah–Millewa Forest
  • Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest
  • Hattah Lakes
  • Chowilla Floodplain and Lindsay–Wallpolla Islands
  • Lower Lakes, the Coorong and Murray Mouth
  • River Murray Channel.

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

Environmentally important sites

While all river, wetland and floodplain sites are important, a process must exist to determine priorities for use of environmental water.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year to year. We have produced a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy to guide the use of environmental water across the Basin to help achieve the best possible results over the long term. Environmental water managers make the day-to-day decisions on what to water and when, in line with the strategy and taking into account seasonal conditions, priorities and the availability of environmental water. Watering decisions are made in consultation with waterway managers and local landholders.

Catchment or regionally-specific details about environmental water use in the catchment, including watering actions, portfolio details and planning, and monitoring of environmental watering, can be found on the web pages of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office or the state government environmental water managers.

Updated: 21 Oct 2021