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Location Australia, Western Australia
Central coordinates 115o 24.83' East  33o 37.44' South
IBA criteria A4i
Area 2,038 ha
Altitude 0 - 5m
Year of IBA assessment 2009

BirdLife Australia

Summary The Busselton Wetlands IBA regularly holds large numbers of waterbirds, including more than 1% of the global populations of Banded Stilt and Red-necked Avocet, occasionally more than 1% of the global populations of Australian Shelduck and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and regularly more than 1% of the Australian population of Black-winged Stilt (=White-headed Stilt).

Site description The Busselton Wetlands are a chain of coastal wetlands that stretch approximately 25 kilometres east and west of Busselton along Geographe Bay. The IBA consists of the Vasse and Wonnerup lagoons and the Broadwater. These are part of an extensively modified wetland system, now comprising an extensive, shallow (less than 1 m deep), nutrient-enriched wetland system with widely varying salinities, comprised of primarily open water fringed by samphire, rushes, flooded pastures and paperbark trees. Water levels in its two principal components, the Vasse and Wonnerup estuaries (now functioning as lagoons), are managed through the use of flood gates, with the aim of minimising flooding of adjoining lands and largely excluding seawater. Large portions of these lagoons often dry out in summer, and water quality decreases as higher temperatures and eutrophic inflows allow large phytoplankton blooms, and salinity increases as water levels drop. The Broadwater is a low-lying lagoon which fills with water over the wet winter months, and has fringing freshwater swamps. New River and associated waterways between the Broadwater and Vasse-Wonnerup have not been included in the IBA as they support low numbers of waterbirds, but they may be important for the hydrological intregrity of the system. Busselton is one of Australia's fastest developing urban areas and the IBA’s proximity to residential, farming and tourism areas presents a range of threats, management issues and opportunities. The IBA overlaps with the Vasse-Wonnerup Ramsar site but also includes the Broadwater.

Key Biodiversity The IBA regularly supports large numbers of waterbirds, with a maximum count of 37,446 waterbirds in December 1998 (Lane et al. 2007). Another high count of 33,000 waterbirds was made in 1986 (DEWHA 2008) and Bamford and Bamford (1995) recorded 22,660 waterbirds in November 1994. Counts of more than 12,000 and more than 17,000 waterbirds were made in November 2007 and February 2008, respectively. Gole et al. (2008) recorded counts of 25,422 and 21,822 waterbirds in January 2008, including 12,900 Grey Teal. As counts have historically not included the Broadwater, where up to 7300 waterbirds have been recorded in recent years (C. Gole in litt. 2008), the Busselton Wetlands overall probably regularly support up to 30,000 waterbirds. More than 80 species of waterbirds have been recorded in the system, including 4750 Pacific Black Duck, 2512 Red-necked Stint and 3494 Black-winged Stilt in 1998-2000, up to 2300 Curlew Sandpiper in 1986, and more than 1% of the national population of Wood Sandpiper (72 in January 1989), Common Greenshank (200 in January 1986) and Long-toed Stint (49 in January 1988) (WAPC 2005; Lane et al. 2007; DEWHA 2008). A significant maximum count of 2300 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was made in 1986 (WAPC 2005; DEWHA 2008) but the highest number recorded in 1998-2000 was only 800 (Lane et al. 2007). There has been one documented significant count of 998 Red-capped Plover (Lane et al. 2007) and there have been single records of the threatened Australasian Bittern and Australian Painted Snipe in 1986. The IBA supports the largest breeding colonies of Black Swan in south-western Australia, with a maximum count of 3103 in 1998-2000 (Lane et al. 2007) and a recent maximum count of 5663 in 2007 (Gole et al. 2008). There were four records each of Regent Parrot and Red-capped Parrot from 1998 to 2009 (Atlas of Australian Birds database).

Non-bird biodiversity: Other native species include Water Rat, Brown Bandicoot, Western Ringtail Possum, Western Grey Kangaroo, Tiger Snake, Long-necked Tortoise, Squelching Froglet, Lea’s Froglet, Motorbike Frog, Banjo Frog and Moaning Frog. No nationally rare, threatened or endemic wetland plants have been recorded at the site. Problematic exotic plants such as Bulrush (Typha orientalis) and Arum Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) have become established in and around Sabina and Abba Rivers, which feed into the wetland.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides non-breeding  1986-2008  1,548-6,108 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Himantopus leucocephalus non-breeding  1986-2008  3,290-5,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Not Recognised 
Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus non-breeding  1986-2008  4,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 
Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae non-breeding  1986-2008  1,915-4,000 individuals  medium  A4i  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

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

Agriculture and aquaculture livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - agro-industry grazing, ranching or farmin happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - abstraction of ground water (agricultural use) happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Pollution agricultural & forestry effluents - nutrient loads happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Residential and commercial development housing and urban areas likely in long term (beyond 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Broadwater Nature Reserve 80 protected area contained by site 80  
Sabina Nature Reserve 102 protected area contained by site 46  
Tuart Forest National Park 2,049 protected area overlaps with site 9  
Un-named (No. 41568) Nature Reserve 21 protected area contained by site 21  
Un-named (No. 44838) Nature Reserve 32 protected area contained by site 32  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial Improved grassland & pasture  minor
Coastline Lagoons  major

Land ownership Parts of five protected areas (managed by DEC), freehold land and unallocated Crown Land (managed by the Shire of Busselton).

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research major
rangeland/pastureland minor
Notes: Some grazing on freehold land.
water management major
Notes: An important area for flood protection for Busselton.

Protection status Several - see separate section.

Access/Land-Owner requests Access to the IBA is variable. Estuarine marshland and tidal floodplain are largely on private land. Information regarding public access is available through the Department of Environment and Conservation for the Vasse and Wonnerup Lagoons, and the Shire of Busselton for the Broadwater. A number of access points for walkers and cyclists are provided on the Busselton Wetlands Trails.

Acknowledgements Comments and bird counts have been contributed by Birds Australia WA volunteer observers; Bernie Masters and the Busselton Naturalists' Club volunteers; Peter Taylor and Sue Abbotts; Bruce and Anne Buchanan; and Kim Onton and colleagues at the Department of Environment and Conservation.

References Bamford, A.R. and Bamford, M.J. (1994) Study of the use by waterbirds of the floodplains of the Vasse and Wonnerup Estuaries: Phase 1 Report. Como, Western Australia: Department of Conservation and Land Management.

Bamford, M.J. and Bamford, A.R. (1995) Waterbirds of the floodplains of the Vasse and Wonnerup Estuaries: patterns of usage and the effects of disturbance. Final report to Department of Conservation and Land Management.

DEWHA (2008) A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS) for Vasse - Wonnerup System Western Australia and The Broadwater - NSW036. Downloaded from on November 2007.

Gole, C., Taylor, P. and Abbotts, S. (2008) Bird surveys of the Busselton Wetlands. Western Australian Bird Notes 125: 1-3.

Jaensch R.P., Vervest, R.M. and Hewish M.J. (1988) Waterbirds in Nature Reserves of south-western Australia, 1981-1985: Reserve accounts. RAOU Report No. 30. Melbourne: RAOU.

Lane, J.A.K., Clarke A.G., Pearson G.B. and Winchcombe, Y.C. (2007) Waterbirds of the Vasse Wonnerup wetlands in 1998-2000, including Ramsar status and comparisons with earlier data. Busselton, Western Australia: Department of Environment and Conservation.

Western Australian Planning Commission (2005) Busselton Wetlands Conservation Strategy. Perth: Western Australian Planning Commission.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Busselton Wetlands. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016

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