Victoria has a diverse range of wetlands including saltmarshes, mangroves, and floodplain billabongs. Often referred to as swamps, coastal wetlands have historically suffered from inappropriate drainage and development.

Caption: Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), migratory waterbirds that rely on coastal wetlands and are classified as “vulnerable” in Victoria 📷 Andrew Allen (iNaturalist, CC-BY)

A wide range of threatened plants and animals depend on healthy wetlands for their survival. They provide refuge and critical habitat for a range of species – for example, tens of thousands of migratory birds (some weighing less than 30 grams) travel from the Northern Hemisphere to our coastal wetlands each year.

These wetlands also help in moderating floods and erosion by holding and slowly releasing large volumes of water. As well, they are vital in stabilising shorelines, maintaining water flows, and purifying waterways by filtering sediments and recycling nutrients’

Eleven of Victoria’s wetlands are so important that they are internationally recognised under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Victoria’s Ramsar sites are home to as many as 1,300 species of native plants and 450 of native animals, including more than 100 species of waterbirds. The Westernport Ramsar site contains three of Victoria’s 13 marine national parks.

Caption: Victoria’s wetlands include fragile ecosystems such as the mangroves of Westernport (seen above). They can be threatened by a range of human activities, including inappropriate development, poorly managed tourism, and climate change 📷 Celeste Maree

We need to appreciate that wetlands are fragile systems. Victoria’s wetlands are increasingly popular as tourist destinations – for example the Gippsland Lakes attract large numbers of visitors and offer a range of recreational opportunities. Our coastal wetlands are also at risk from altered water regimes, increased salination, pollution from catchment activities, the introduction of pest plants and animals, unsustainable land uses, inappropriate fire regimes and incompatible recreational activities.

Threats to wetlands include invasion by weeds and pests, pollution and salinisation. Wetlands are also exposed to high levels of recreation use as well as agricultural and urbanisation development. Climate change will severely impact coastal wetlands, with changes to river flows from lower rainfall, increasing temperatures, inundation from rising sea levels and increased storm events.

Victoria has lost more than 37% of its wetland areas to activities such as land clearing and draining since European settlement. 90% of this loss has occurred on private land. We need to work very hard to protect our remaining wetlands before they are lost forever.