Great Sandy Strait

Site description (2008 baseline):

Site location and context
Great Sandy Strait is one of the three most significant roosting and feeding areas for migratory shorebirds in eastern Australia, supporting about 120,000 shorebirds. The IBA contains all of the shorebird roosting and feeding grounds along the 70 km strait, and is between 5 and 15 km wide, with its centre 20 km east southeast of Maryborough in south Queensland. Great Sandy Strait is a sand passage estuary between the mainland and the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, is the least modified of three such passages in Queensland, is a Marine Park and has been listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance since 1999. The IBA extends above the high tide mark and out of these protected areas where shorebirds roost on higher land. Large numbers of shorebirds feed on expansive tidal flats alongside the mainland or Fraser Island, or on banks in the middle of the strait. About a third of the waterway is intertidal mudflat or sandflat, and the remainder includes mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh, sandy spits and forested islands. At high tide, waders rest at sites which are usually open areas above high tide (claypans, saltmarshes, sandbars, spits and mangroves) where they can easily see predators. The adjacent Fraser Island is an IBA for its Black-breasted Button-quails.

Key biodiversity
Greater Sand Plovers and Little Tern come close to threshold numbers. The area contained an estimate of 120,000 birds at the January 2005 count but previous adhoc counts had indicated 40,000 birds. Based on data collected during Queensland Wader Study Group surveys, the local Bush Stone-curlew and Beach Stone-curlew populations have been estimated at 10 individuals and 20 individuals respectively. However, these surveys have targeted wader roost sites and excluded bushland habitat, and thus may underestimate the true size of the Bush Stone-curlew population. The Atlas of Australian Birds has one record of Australasian Bittern between 1998 and 2008 (Atlas of Australian Birds database).

Non-bird biodiversity: Patterned fens have been recorded along Great Sandy Strait and Cooloola. This type of wetland is unique in the world. The mangrove communities represent a transition between temperate and tropical regions. Ten species of mangrove have been identified. Three of these are at or near their southern limit of distribution; others are at their northern limit. Old stands of grey mangrove support populations of the endangered Illidge's ant-blue butterfly. Coral reefs and bommies occur in shallow waters at the northern end of the Strait, at Big Woody Island, Little Woody Island and near Round Island. Six species of seagrass have been recorded in the Strait. The seagrass beds are nursery and feeding grounds for prawns and fish and feeding grounds for dugong and turtles. All six species of marine turtles found in Queensland inhabit the Strait: the green, hawksbill, flatback, Pacific Ridley, loggerhead and leatherback turtles. Great Sandy Strait is an important feeding ground for juvenile turtles. Three species of dolphins are resident in the area: common dolphin, bottle-nosed dolphin and Indo-Pacific hump-back dolphin.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Local governments to consider relevant shorebird information in their assessment of development applications and relevant management plans, and to prepare planning schemes that facilitate appropriate management of shorebirds and their habitats. State agencies with management responsibilities to prepare management plans that ensure appropriate management of shorebirds and their habitats.

Protected areas
The IBA overlaps with nine protected areas.

Land ownership
Maryborough City, Hervey Bay, Tiaro and Cooloola Shire Councils. They are responsible for managing roosts on most of the freehold and leasehold land on the mainland. Queensland Environmental Protection Agency is the management agency for the islands in the Great Sandy Strait within national parks. The Defence Department owns a large parcel of land in the SW of the Great Sandy Strait.

The nomination was prepared by Dez Wells with the assistance of the Queensland Wader Study Group.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Great Sandy Strait. Downloaded from on 06/12/2023.