Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site

Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site consists of Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, which was listed as a Ramsar site in 1986, part of the Wilgara grazing property, which was added to the Ramsar site in 2000, and U-block (also part of a grazing property), which was added to the Ramsar site in 2012. It covers 19,850 hectares and is located about 100 km north of Warren in central west NSW.

The Macquarie Marshes are one of the largest semi-permanent freshwater wetlands in south-east Australia, covering about 200,000 hectares. They are recognised as being internationally important because of their size, diversity of wetland types, extent of wetland communities and large-scale colonial waterbird breeding events.

map of the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site in NSW

Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site map

Why was this wetland listed as a Ramsar site?

The Macquarie Marshes were listed under the Ramsar Convention because they meet the following Ramsar nomination criteria:

Criterion 1 - Representative or unique wetlands

The Macquarie Marshes are one of the largest remaining inland, semi-permanent wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, and have a high diversity of wetland types. They are an example of a wetland reliant on runoff from a high rainfall upper catchment and have extensive and changeable wetlands in their semi-arid lowland reaches.

Criterion 2 - Threatened species or ecological communities

The Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site supports four internationally threatened species on the IUCN Red List, and three nationally threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, including the Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), Australian painted snipe (Rostratula benghalensis australis) and Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii).

Criterion 3 - Populations of plants and/or animals important for maintaining biodiversity of a particular bioregion

The Macquarie Marshes contain a variety of habitat types, and consequently the plant and animal species of the site are particularly diverse. They support extensive river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) woodlands, which provide habitat for waterbirds and woodland birds, extensive common reed (Phragmites australis) reedbeds, and water couch (Paspalum distichum) marsh. The Ramsar site represents the limit of the range for several plant and animal species, including the western limit for Gould's long-eared bat (Nyctophilus gouldi).

Criterion 4 - Supports species at a critical stage of their life cycle or provides refuge in adverse conditions

The Ramsar site represents highly significant habitat for waterbirds that breed in colonies. It is one of the few remaining sites in Australia supporting large breeding colonies of the straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis), and one of only a few sites in NSW where magpie geese (Anseranas semipalma) breed. It also supports some of the largest breeding colonies of the intermediate egret (Ardea intermedia), rufous night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) and royal spoonbill (Platalea regia) in the Murray-Darling Basin, as well as a rich diversity of other waterbirds including cormorants, herons, spoonbills and ducks, many of which breed within the marshes.

Criterion 5 - Supports 20,000 or more waterbirds

The Macquarie Marshes regularly support more than 20,000 waterbirds and over 500,000 in large floods. Sixteen colonial nesting waterbird species have been recorded breeding in the Macquarie Marshes, including substantial numbers of cormorants, herons, ibises and spoonbills.

Criterion 8 - Food source, nursery or migration path for fish

The native fish community of the Macquarie Marshes is a blend of those found in adjacent main channel habitats. During flows, fish are likely to move into the marshes from these areas. The Macquarie Marshes support a significant life history stage as recent evidence suggests that native fish move out of the main channel habitats into the floodplain to breed and spawn with the onset of high flows.

More information and planning documents

Ramsar information sheet

The key document for the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site is the Ramsar information sheet. It outlines the criteria met by the site, special features and management practices within the site and its catchment.

Ecological character description

The Ramsar Convention requires Contracting Parties to maintain the ecological character of their Ramsar-listed wetlands. Australia has developed a framework for describing ecological character in detail. The ecological character description (ECD) for the Macquarie Marshes provides a comprehensive description of the site’s critical values (components, processes and services) at the time of Ramsar site listing in 1986.

Download the ecological character description for the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site:

Part one (12051MMECDPt1.pdf, 839KB)

  • Introduction and description of Ramsar site

Part two (12051MMECDPt2.pdf, 550KB)

  • Ecosystem components, processes, benefits ansd services of Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve and U-block

Part three (12051MMECDPt3.pdf, 779KB)

  • Conceptual models, limits of acceptable change, and threats to the Macquarie Marshes
  • Changes to the Ramsar site since listing
  • Knowledge gaps, monitoring needs, and communication and education activities
  • Glossary and references

Part four (12051MMECDPt4.pdf, 621KB)

  • Appendices and CVs of authors

Article 3.2 response strategy

In 2009, after the prolonged drought, a notification of likely change in ecological character of the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site was submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat, under Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention. The ‘likely change’ can best be described as a change from a semi-permanent to an ephemeral wetland system. The primary cause of the likely change in ecological character was found to be changes to the flow regime resulting from river regulation and extraction.

The Office of Environment and Heritage, together with other agencies and managers of the privately owned sections of the Ramsar site, has developed the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar Site Article 3.2 Response Strategy (130104mmrspstrty.pdf, 1.98MB). The response strategy addresses the decline in the wetlands and will help to restore the system to good health so it may better withstand dry spells in the future. The 10-year strategy outlines the management goals and restoration objectives and the projects that will help reach those objectives. Projects include improvements to water management infrastructure and land management practices, and detailed monitoring of water flows and responses from vegetation.

Managemant plans

A plan of management was prepared for Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve in 1993. This plan addresses management issues such as water allocations, native flora and fauna, introduced species, fire, Aboriginal and European cultural heritage, and public access. The flow regime is the key to maintaining the diversity and productivity of wetland habitats within the marshes.

Wetland management plans integrating primary production management and wetland management were prepared in 2009 for the Wilgara property, and in 2012 for U-block, and adopt the ‘wise use’ principles under the Ramsar Convention.

Management of the Macquarie Marshes is guided by the Macquarie Marshes Adaptive Environmental Management Plan. The plan identifies ecological assets, their condition and water needs, and actions and projects to halt the decline of the wetland system.

Further information on the Macquarie Marshes

The Office of Environment and Heritage manages deliveries of environmental water to the Macquarie Marshes to benefit the ecological character of the wetlands.

The Ramsar Managers Network provides a forum for Ramsar site managers in NSW.

Page last updated: 21 March 2013