Ramsar sites

Five-Year Outcome: By 2023 there is restoration of and reduction in threats to the ecological character of Ramsar sites, through the implementation of priority actions.

Investment Priority: Bowling Green Bay

Background Information:

The ‘ecological character’ of a Ramsar site refers to the combination of the ecosystem
components, processes, and benefits and services that characterise the wetland at a given point
in time.
The Burdekin Dry Tropics region includes one of the five Ramsar listed wetlands in Queensland,
Bowling-Green Bay. The Bowling Green Bay wetlands were listed in 1993 and meet six of the
nine criteria for listing:

  1. The Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site is in the North-east Coast Australian Drainage
    Division. It is a representative of many coastal and seasonal wetlands in the area, but it is
    particularly significant for its diversity and extent of wetland types.
  2. The Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site provides feeding grounds for the nationally
    vulnerable Green Turtle. The site also supports Dugong, listed on the International Union for
    Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species as vulnerable. Saltwater Crocodiles also
    inhabit the site.
  3. Bowling Green Bay is particularly important for the abundance and diversity of bird
    species. The site regularly supports substantial numbers of all Australian waterbird groups,
    including post breeding populations of Brolgas and Magpie Geese.
  4. This Ramsar site is of special significance as breeding and feeding habitat for
    Brolgas and Magpie Geese.
  5. The Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site seasonally supports in excess of 20,000
  6. The Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site is likely to seasonally support 1% of the total
    population of the Brolgas.

The Bowling-Green bay wetlands stretch from Cape Cleveland at the northern end through to
Cape Bowling Green at the southern end and cover a total area of 35,500ha. While the Ramsar-listed wetlands lie within Bowling Green Bay National Park, the catchment and parts of the larger wetland complex occur outside the National Park, primarily on privately owned properties, that are predominantly used for agriculture (sugar cane and grazing).

The wetlands include 14 different wetland types and there is a diverse complex of coastal
wetland systems including inter-tidal seagrass beds, mangrove woodlands and saline saltpan
communities and brackish to freshwater wetlands. There are extensive areas of forest and
woodland, occurring on the mountainous areas and the coastal dune system.
The site has unusually low rainfall for the region, with most rain falling in summer. The heavy
storm rains of the summer wet season provide fresh water into the site, reducing the salinities of
the shallow inshore marine areas, the surface soils of the saltpans and the mangrove areas.
The Haughton River and many creeks feed into the wetland system. Groundwater is stored in
two main aquifers that recharge from direct infiltration over the delta from rainfall, river flow and
Of the 224 birds known to occur in the site, almost half are known to breed within it. The site is
an important habitat for about fifty percent of the migratory species listed on international
conservation agreements.
The intertidal and subtidal seagrass beds provide feeding habitat for the nationally threatened
Green Turtle and the internationally threatened Dugong. Barramundi breed in the freshwater
swamps of the site and Saltwater Crocodiles also inhabit the site.
The primary threats to the ecological character of Bowling Green Bay are:

    • altered hydrological regime, with natural wetting and drying cycles disrupted by
      alteration of creeks and rivers, installation of dams, bunds and gates, primarily to
      provide water for agriculture (sugar cane and vegetable growing);
    • impacts of feral animals, primarily feral pigs that damage wetlands through trampling
      and feeding and direct predation on turtle nests;
    • water quality entering the wetlands is often compromised by increased levels of
      sediment and nutrients, arising from land use in the surrounding catchment; and
    • weeds, both terrestrial and aquatic that impact on native plant species and the ability of
      the wetlands to perform their ecological functions.

Addressing these threats is important, not only for the wetlands themselves, but also for the role
they play in protecting the health of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.
The priority actions for the Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site are management activities that
address the primary threats, including restoring natural hydrological cycles and addressing
barriers to fish migration, reducing the impact of feral animals and weeds, improving
management practices in surrounding land, reducing nutrients and sediment flowing into the
wetlands and restoring coastal habitats.
Management of wetlands that are inside the Bowling Green Bay National Park is primarily
undertaken by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, as part of the Department of
Environment and Science.

Current Projects:

Project Name: The Restoration of the Ramsar Wetlands of Bowling Green Bay
Project Duration: 2019 – 2023
Managed by: NQ Dry Tropics
Funding Program: Regional Land Partnerships
Project website: /restoration-of-the-ramsar-wetlands-of-bowling-green-bay-catchment-2019-2023/
Summary: This project is addressing the ecological character of the wetlands by reducing the
threats to the Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site, adjacent coastline and adjoining creek
This four-year project aims to reduce the threats to and restore the ecological character of the
Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site, adjacent coastline and adjoining creek catchments by:

  • improving fauna (including bird and turtle) nesting and feeding habitat by removing
    marine debris, revegetating, and repairing dunes;
  • reducing terrestrial and aquatic weed infestations to improve habitat for animals that
    depend on the wetlands and creek systems;
  • creating fish passageways to assist with spawning, seasonal migration and habitat
  • managing pest animal species to reduce impacts on wetland vegetation;
  • raising awareness of the value and importance of wetlands; and
  • establishing a robust monitoring program.

Project activities will also contribute to enhancing the health of the adjacent Great Barrier Reef
World Heritage Area.
As part of this project a Ramsar Management Advisory Group (RMAG) will be established to
drive, support and enhance communication and management concerning conservation
outcomes of the site. The RMAG membership will include stakeholders such as relevant state
and local government, Traditional Owners, water service providers and non-government
organisations with a specific interest in the site. The RMAG will provide advice for ongoing
management of the site, in line with requirements under Commonwealth and State legislation,
guidelines and principles. A significant role of RMAG is to facilitate and encourage involvement
in a shared vision for the management of the site between existing on-ground managers, and
the wider community.

Alignment with stakeholder aspirations:

Bowling Green Bay lies in the Lower Burdekin and Offshore sub-region and the reduction in
threats to, and restoration of the character of the wetlands aligns with the community aspirations
for the sub-region (page 18 in the NRM Plan):

  • Effective management of water and energy for productivity and the environment
    “Our community recognises the link between adopting innovation and profitability, and
    that efficient use of energy and water increases agricultural productivity and
    environmental protection. We will achieve this by sharing information, adopting beneficial
    technologies and clearly measuring results to build community resilience, successful
    enterprises, and the health of our local groundwater systems, rivers, wetlands and the
  • Recognised land stewardship and control of introduced pests
    “Our farmers are stewards of the land, who seek to achieve social, economic and
    environmental outcomes for their enterprises to create security for their families and the
    community. Our community will encourage them to increase their uptake of best
    management practices and explore opportunities for financial incentives to reward
    sustainable practices. We will encourage urban development without the loss of prime
    farm land, and promote the importance of urban, rural and peri-urban residents
    proactively working together to tackle pest and weed issues. We would like to foster
    strategic and compatible land use to realise its full potential, while maintaining soil health
    and reducing unnecessary financial inputs.”

It also aligns with the regional goals of the NRM Plan:

  • The ecological integrity and physical stability of watercourses, wetlands and marine
    ecosystems are restored and maintained (page 55).
  • The unique biodiversity of the Burdekin Dry Tropics region is protected and enhanced to
    increase the resilience of native species, ecosystems and ecological processes (page

The right to protect Country and culture is fundamental to Traditional Owners as the custodians of Country based on a history of more than 60,000 years. Traditional Owners aspire to have greater management, involvement and empowerment over Country and their cultural knowledge and understanding of Country are embraced. The Traditional Owner aspirations for the region can be found in the Burdekin Dry Tropics NRM Plan (pages 25-26), Caring for Country Plan (2005) and the Indigenous Participation Plan. Access to Country to connect and manage cultural and natural resources continue to be priorities for Traditional Owners. A map of Traditional Owner group areas can be accessed here.

Key Collaborators

Being able to successfully complete projects and on-ground works to restore and reduce threats
to the ecological character of Bowling Green Bay requires collaboration between a number of
groups and organisations that have a responsibility for, or a stake in, the health and
management of the Bowling Green Bay wetlands. This list does not cover all groups or
organisations, but rather represents the ‘key’ organisations and groups whose assistance,
advice, approval or cooperation would be required:

  • Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) (Wetlands).
  • Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) (Terrestrial and Marine).
  • Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF).
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Marine areas and Monitoring and Reporting).
  • Bindal Traditional Owners and the Gudjuda Reference Group.
  • Burdekin Shire Council (Local Government).
  • Lower Burdekin Water (Water Service Provider).
  • Sunwater (Water Service Provider).
  • TropWATER – Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, James Cook
    University (Research and monitoring).
  • NQ Dry Tropics (regional NRM group).

Additionally, there are several groups and organisations who have programs or particular
interest in the Bowling Green Bay wetlands, the catchment and the broader wetland complex including:

  • Birdlife Australia (Bird monitoring).
  • Queensland Wader Study Group (Bird monitoring).
  • Greening Australia (Not for Profit Environmental Enterprise).
  • Wetlands and Grasslands Foundation (Environmental charity organisation).
  • Burdekin Fish Restocking Association.
  • Canegrowers (Queensland Cane Growers Organisation Ltd).
  • Lower Burdekin Landcare.

It is also acknowledged that some areas of Bowling Green Bay wetlands catchment and larger wetland complex are situated on private properties, therefore the agreement of local land holders and managers is essential to undertaking works in these areas.


  • Shorebird monitoring (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Queensland Wader
    Study Group) — here and here.
  • Bowling Green Bay one of three monitoring sites for seagrass monitoring for region for
    the Reef Report Card and the Reef Report Card includes progress towards Wetland
    goals for the Haughton catchment — here.

In addition to the monitoring listed above, many of the Key Collaborators also conduct
monitoring on an ongoing basis, or for project or research needs.

Potential indicators for the ecological character of Bowling Green Bay:

  • Condition and extent of wetlands (including adherence to natural hydrological cycles).
  • Condition and extent of riparian vegetation.
  • System connectivity.
  • Presence and abundance of key native plant and animal species (terrestrial and aquatic).
  • Water quality monitoring.
  • Presence and abundance of key invasive plant and animal species (terrestrial and aquatic)

Links and further information:

Burdekin Dry Tropics Conservation Action Planning Summary Report.
Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water & Environment Wetland database.
Queensland Government Wetland Info site.
Burdekin Dry Tropics NRM Plan page 69 or here.