The IBA includes an active saltworks and surrounding intertidal mudflats at Port Hedland on the north-western coast of Western Australia. The site consists of man-made evaporation ponds and levee banks, as well as some of the surrounding intertidal flats known to be important. The boundary of the IBA is based on survey data, which may not include all suitable shorebird habitat in the area; additional surveys are needed to determine the importance of adjacent areas. The saltworks include eight salt evaporation ponds and an intake zone. The intake zone is divided into two areas designated Pond 0A and Pond 0B. The intake zone consists of large areas of sea water and some ‘natural shoreline’, with some of the boundary including man-made levee banks; scattered mangroves; and adjacent supra-tidal flats to the west and south. Pond 0A is 480 ha and Pond 0B is 1159 ha in area. Some mud flats have developed at one point of the intake zone (at Intake Pump Two). The eight salt evaporation ponds have small areas of soft sediment at their corners upon which waterbirds are able to feed. Adjacent supra-tidal flats to the west and north-west are also included in the IBA. During low tides, waterbirds forage on the mudflats and along nearby creeks. During high tides, the waterbirds relocate to the saltworks to continue feeding and/or to roost.
At least 50 species of waterbird have been recorded around Port Hedland Saltworks. This figure includes 33 species listed under international conservation agreements (DEWHA 2007). Counts of up to 66,800 waders have been made at the site, but numbers have fallen to approximately 5000 to 10,000 since the expansion of the saltworks in the 1990s. A count of 6000 Broad-billed Sandpiper in 1987 represents the largest count of this species at a single location in Australia, but the highest recorded count for the period 2002 to 2006 is 194 birds. Other species reported in significant numbers in the past but evidently not in recent years are Asian Dowitcher (normal peak population in the 1980s was 80,120, maximum 130 in 1982, 64 in 1996 and 13 in 2002-2006), Curlew Sandpiper (maximum count 25,000 but maximum 818 in 2002-2006), Red-necked Avocet (maximum count 3000 but 130-635 in 2002-2006), Banded Stilt (172, 624, 231, 3604 and 34 in 2002-2006), Oriental Plover (maximum count 29,900), Oriental Pratincole (maximum count 10,000) and White-winged Black Tern (15,000 in 1982). The IBA is considered to be the most important site in Australia for Red-necked Phalarope (maximum count 48) (Lane 1987; Minton 1987; Hassell 2006; DEWHA 2007). Other species recorded in the IBA include the near threatened Australian Bustard and Bush Stone-curlew and the biome-restricted Western Bowerbird, Painted Finch and Australian Yellow White-eye (Atlas of Australian Birds database).
Non-bird biodiversity: Forty-one species of fish and at least 28 species of benthic fauna have been recorded in two of the ponds at the saltworks (DEWHA 2007).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Inundation of the saltworks should be managed (where possible) to benefit shorebirds. Counts should be continued to monitor the site's ongoing value to shorebirds.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The Rio Tinto-BirdLife International Birdwatch Project is conducted annually to monitor bird populations. Historically, AWSG banded shorebirds at the site.
Crown Land under mining lease to Dampier Salt Limited (Rio Tinto Minerals); also some unallocated Crown Land.
Site access / Land-owner requests
Access to most of the site is regulated by Dampier Salt Limited (Rio Tinto Minerals).
Thanks to Chris Hassell as compiler of the nomination.