email a friend
printable version
Location Australia, Queensland
Central coordinates 152o 57.46' East  25o 31.50' South
IBA criteria A2, A4i
Area 80,612 ha
Altitude 0 - 10m
Year of IBA assessment 2009

BirdLife Australia

Summary This site supports about 120,000 non-breeding shorebirds, including more than 1% of the world population of eight species (Bar-tailed Godwit, Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler, Lesser Sand Plover, Pied Oystercatcher, Red-necked Stint and Red-capped Plover), and small numbers of the restricted-range Mangrove Honeyeater.

Site description Great Sandy Strait is one of the three most significant roosting and feeding areas for migratory shorebirds in eastern Australia, supporting about 120,000 shorebirds. The IBA contains all of the shorebird roosting and feeding grounds along the 70 km strait, and is between 5 and 15 km wide, with its centre 20 km east southeast of Maryborough in south Queensland. Great Sandy Strait is a sand passage estuary between the mainland and the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, is the least modified of three such passages in Queensland, is a Marine Park and has been listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance since 1999. The IBA extends above the high tide mark and out of these protected areas where shorebirds roost on higher land. Large numbers of shorebirds feed on expansive tidal flats alongside the mainland or Fraser Island, or on banks in the middle of the strait. About a third of the waterway is intertidal mudflat or sandflat, and the remainder includes mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh, sandy spits and forested islands. At high tide, waders rest at sites which are usually open areas above high tide (claypans, saltmarshes, sandbars, spits and mangroves) where they can easily see predators. The adjacent Fraser Island is an IBA for its Black-breasted Button-quails.

Key Biodiversity Greater Sand Plovers and Little Tern come close to threshold numbers. The area contained an estimate of 120,000 birds at the January 2005 count but previous adhoc counts had indicated 40,000 birds. Based on data collected during Queensland Wader Study Group surveys, the local Bush Stone-curlew and Beach Stone-curlew populations have been estimated at 10 individuals and 20 individuals respectively. However, these surveys have targeted wader roost sites and excluded bushland habitat, and thus may underestimate the true size of the Bush Stone-curlew population. The Atlas of Australian Birds has one record of Australasian Bittern between 1998 and 2008 (Atlas of Australian Birds database).

Non-bird biodiversity: Patterned fens have been recorded along Great Sandy Strait and Cooloola. This type of wetland is unique in the world. The mangrove communities represent a transition between temperate and tropical regions. Ten species of mangrove have been identified. Three of these are at or near their southern limit of distribution; others are at their northern limit. Old stands of grey mangrove support populations of the endangered Illidge's ant-blue butterfly. Coral reefs and bommies occur in shallow waters at the northern end of the Strait, at Big Woody Island, Little Woody Island and near Round Island. Six species of seagrass have been recorded in the Strait. The seagrass beds are nursery and feeding grounds for prawns and fish and feeding grounds for dugong and turtles. All six species of marine turtles found in Queensland inhabit the Strait: the green, hawksbill, flatback, Pacific Ridley, loggerhead and leatherback turtles. Great Sandy Strait is an important feeding ground for juvenile turtles. Three species of dolphins are resident in the area: common dolphin, bottle-nosed dolphin and Indo-Pacific hump-back dolphin.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris resident  1985-2007  992 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Red-capped Plover Charadrius ruficapillus resident  1985-2007  1,649 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Sandplover Charadrius mongolus non-breeding  1985-2007  8,461 individuals  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes non-breeding  1985-2007  11,275 individuals  good  A4i  Near Threatened 
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica non-breeding  1985-2007  43,987 individuals  good  A4i  Near Threatened 
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis non-breeding  1985-2007  12,803 individuals  good  A4i  Endangered 
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris non-breeding  1985-2007  5,612 individuals  good  A4i  Endangered 
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis non-breeding  1985-2007  8,100 individuals  good  A4i  Near Threatened 
Mangrove Honeyeater Lichenostomus fasciogularis resident  1985-2008  common  A2  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2008 medium not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: large scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution industrial & military effluents - type unknown/unrecorded happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Fraser Island Fish Habitat Area B 9,734 protected area overlaps with site 307  
Fraser Island World Heritage Site 166,283 protected area overlaps with site 9,873  
Great Sandy Conservation Park 658 protected area overlaps with site 414  
Great Sandy National Park 220,954 protected area overlaps with site 4,629  
Hervey Bay - Tin Can Bay Dugong Protection Area (A) 174,225 protected area overlaps with site 58,576  
Kauri creek Fish Habitat Area A 7,073 protected area overlaps with site 6,105  
Maaroom Fish Habitat Area A 22,971 protected area overlaps with site 22,031  
Poona National Park 5,010 protected area overlaps with site 88  
Susan River Fish Habitat Area A 4,519 protected area overlaps with site 4,228  
Tin Can Inlet Fish Habitat Area A 1,449 protected area overlaps with site 1,253  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Coastline Estuarine waters; Intertidal mud, sand & salt flats; Mangrove wetlands; Salt marshes  100%

Land ownership Maryborough City, Hervey Bay, Tiaro and Cooloola Shire Councils. They are responsible for managing roosts on most of the freehold and leasehold land on the mainland. Queensland Environmental Protection Agency is the management agency for the islands in the Great Sandy Strait within national parks. The Defence Department owns a large parcel of land in the SW of the Great Sandy Strait.

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
fisheries/aquaculture minor
nature conservation and research major
tourism/recreation minor

Protection status The IBA overlaps with nine protected areas.

Acknowledgements The nomination was prepared by Dez Wells with the assistance of the Queensland Wader Study Group.

References Crome, F. (1994) Planning tool for conservation of wader roosts in the Great Sandy Strait. Report to WWF.

Driscoll, P.V. (1990) Survey of shorebird feeding areas and high tide roosts in the Great Sandy Strait, summer 1990. Report for the Qld Department of Environment and Heritage.

Driscoll, P.V. (1993) Survey of waders in the Great Sandy Strait, south-eastern Queensland, Australia. The Stilt. 22. Bulletin of the Australian Waders Studies Group of the RAOU.

Driscoll, P.V.(1996) The distribution of waders along the Queensland coastline. Report to the QLD Department of Environment and Heritage.

Driscoll, P V.(1998) Summary Report on Wader Surveys 1989 to 1997 in the Great Sandy Strait. Prepared by Peter Driscoll on behalf of the Queensland Wader Study Group for the QLD Department of the Environment.

Driscoll, P.V. and Cross, L.(2003) Report on wader and waterbird surveys 2001 to 2002 in the Booral area. Prepared on behalf of the Queensland Wader Study Group for the QLD Parks and Wildlife Service.

Harding, S., Milton, D. and Cross, L.(2005) Great Sandy Strait Shorebird Roost Mapping Project. Report for Shorebird Conservation Project funded by National Heritage Trust and WWF.

Hegerl, E.J.(1993) Site Evaluations and Management Considerations for Intertidal Wetlands - Baffle Creek (24º 31.5’ S) to Noosa (26º 20.7’ S). Draft Report, February 11, 1993. Australian Littoral Society unpublished report for Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage.

Queensland Department of Primary Industries(1993) The condition of river catchments in Queensland: a broad overview of catchment management issues. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Great Sandy Strait. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife