Gippsland Lakes

Year of compilation: 2008

Site description
The Gippsland Lakes IBA is identical to the Ramsar site of the same name and includes many Gippsland Lakes Reserves and also Heritage Rivers as well as listed protected areas in coastal east Victoria. It is delineated as the contiguous reserve land and open water of the natural wetlands situated just inside the coast of East Gippsland from Seaspray to Lake Tyers. The lakes are a group of coastal lagoons separated from the sea by a broad sandy barrier known as Ninety Mile Beach. The main lakes, Wellington, Victoria and King, cover an area of 340 km² and have a shoreline of 320 km. The lakes are fed by a number of river systems. The largest of the rivers are the LaTrobe River and the Avon River (flowing into Lake Wellington), and the Mitchell River, Nicholson River and Tambo River (flowing into Lake King). The system is linked to the sea by an artificial entrance near the eastern end, opened in 1889, where the town of Lakes Entrance is now situated. Before 1889 the entrance moved during floods or storms and became restricted during periods of low river flow. The artificial entrance both lowered and reduced annual variation in lake levels and salinity. Today, the larger wetlands are saline but surrounded by a complex of other smaller wetlands ranging from hypersaline to freshwater. In periodically inundated low lying areas, the vegetation is wet scrub dominated by Swamp Paperbark, and fringed on the lake side by reed and reed mace. In some of the swamps around the lakes the swamp scrub is dying back and is being replaced by salt marsh, due largely to increased salinity. The key freshwater areas supporting breeding birds are MacLeod, Heart and Dowd's Morasses. Parts of the Lakes system are heavily used for commercial and recreational fisheries and for other water-based recreation (with old figures stating that 250,000 anglers each year take over 1.5 million fish, mostly Black Bream, weighing around 400 tonnes, from the Lakes system). The wider landscape is only 50% pastoral, 40% reserved, 5% residential and 5% mining. The neighbouring Jack Smith Lake and Lake Denison are not included in the IBA but have occasionally supported large numbers of Red-necked Avocets.

Key biodiversity
The Gippsland Lakes regularly support 20,000 or more waterbirds; species recorded in notable but sub-threshold numbers are Grey Teal (7,270 at Lake King, Lake Victoria and Lake Wellington), Australasian Grebe (4,500 at Lake King), Eurasian Coot (10,000 at Lake King, 1,000 at Lake Victoria and 2,000 at Lake Wellington) and Great Cormorant (7,000 at Lake Victoria, 440 at Lake Wellington) (DEWHA 2008). About four to eight pairs of the near threatened Hooded Plover occur, including two pairs on the Bunga Arm of the Coastal Reserves. The endangered Australasian Bittern is probably now extirpated from the Gippsland Lakes due to massive decline of fringing reedbeds. Other waterbirds still occurring in locally significant numbers include Blue-billed Duck (very small numbers on freshwater inland wetlands, mostly confined to Macleods Morass), Australian Pelican (locally significant breeding resident), Australian White Ibis (locally significant breeding resident), Caspian Tern (locally significant breeding resident), Dusky Moorhen (outside urban ponds, a very rare species in the region that has declined almost completely), Eurasian Coot (locally significant breeding resident, has declined by 60-75%), Great Crested Grebe (appears to have declined by more than 80%), Great Egret (appears to have declined by 50%), Hoary-headed Grebe (appears to have declined by 65%), Royal Spoonbill (locally significant breeding resident), Straw-necked Ibis (locally significant breeding resident), White-bellied Sea-Eagle (locally significant breeding resident with approximately 25 pairs, perhaps 25% of the Victorian population) and Yellow-billed Spoonbill (locally significant breeding resident). Striated Fieldwrens are frequently recorded in intervening vegetation (Atlas of Australian Birds database).

Non-bird biodiversity: Other species of fauna recorded in the Gippsland Lakes region include Swamp Skink, Green and Golden Bell Frog, Growling Grass Frog (the site may be an important hybrid-zone for these species) and Bottlenose Dolphin.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Freshwater inflow allocations needed for key breeding locations to stabilise bird populations that are declining due to increasing salinity. Other more localised management action is needed to address habitat quality, such as the decline in the extent of reedbeds and Melaleuca scrub.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Ongoing monitoring by EGBOCA.

Protected areas
The IBA includes The Lakes National Park, half of the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park and nine wildlife or conservation reserves, either wholly or with significant overlaps. All these are separately listed in the Protected Areas section. There are also 31 lakes reserves and two Heritage Rivers within the IBA.

Land ownership
Victorian State Government with management responsibilities shared by East Gippsland Shire Council, West Gippsland Shire Council, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria, Department of Primary Industries (mostly fisheries), Southern Rural Water, East Gippsland Water, West Gippsland Water, East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Environment Protection Authority, Gippsland Coastal Board, Gippsland. Ports.

Site access / Land-owner requests
Public access is permitted to lakes and morasses.

Simon Mustoe wrote the report. Data are based largely on sightings made and collated by the East Gippsland Bird Observers Club (EGBOCA).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Gippsland Lakes. Downloaded from on 08/08/2022.