A Ramsar wetland in crisis - the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth, Australia

Richard Kingsford, Keith Walker, Rebecca Lester, William Young, Peter Fairweather, Jesmond Sammut, M Geddes

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    148 Citations (Scopus)


    The state of global freshwater ecosystems is increasingly parlous with water resource development degrading high-conservation wetlands. Rehabilitation is challenging because necessary increases in environmental flows have concomitant social impacts, complicated because many rivers flow between jurisdictions or countries. Australia's MurrayDarling Basin is a large river basin with such problems encapsulated in the crisis of its Ramsar-listed terminal wetland, the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth. Prolonged drought and upstream diversion of water dropped water levels in the Lakes below sea level (20092010), exposing hazardous acid sulfate soils. Salinities increased dramatically (e.g. South Lagoon of Coorong>200gL-1, cf. modelled natural 80gL-1), reducing populations of waterbirds, fish, macroinvertebrates and littoral plants. Calcareous masses of estuarine tubeworms (Ficopomatus enigmaticus) killed freshwater turtles (Chelidae) and other fauna. Management primarily focussed on treating symptoms (e.g. acidification), rather than reduced flows, at considerable expense (≥AU$2 billion). We modelled a scenario that increased annual flows during low-flow periods from current levels up to one-third of what the natural flow would have been, potentially delivering substantial environmental benefits and avoiding future crises. Realisation of this outcome depends on increasing environmental flows and implementing sophisticated river management during dry periods, both highly contentious options.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)255-265
    Number of pages11
    JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • acid sulfate soils
    • bioremediation
    • Darling Basin
    • decision-making
    • drought
    • ecosystem states
    • environmental flows
    • Murray
    • over-allocation
    • rehabilitation
    • water resource development
    • weirs


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