Australia's pristine estuaries

20 December 2001

Australia has over 1000 estuaries and most Australians live near an estuary.

An estuary is a semi-enclosed body of water where salt from the open sea mixes with fresh water draining from the land.

There are three types of estuaries: river, tide and wave. Estuaries are categorised based on whether they are dominantly affected by river flows, tidal or wave action.

Estuaries are often used for dumping, sand or water extraction, and construction of marinas, ports and canal estates. They are dredged, filled in and artificially trained, and wetlands associated with them are often destroyed.

A near pristine estuary is an estuary that has a high proportion of natural vegetation cover in the catchment, minimal disturbance from land use, low impact from human interaction and minimal impacts from pests or weeds.

Near pristine estuaries make up half of all estuaries found in Australia.

Near pristine estuaries are very important and must be maintained for the good of Australia's environment. They provide habitat for native plants and animals, which is important for the conservation of biodiversity, and their environments support commercial, traditional and recreational fisheries and tourism.

Most of Australia's near pristine estuaries are located away from population centres in northern Australia and western Tasmania. However important near pristine estuaries are also found around some developed areas such as national parks and state forests.

An Australia-wide partnership has been formed to assess the state of Australia's estuaries and to put in place mechanisms to restore and protect them. Geoscience Australia is part of the estuaries assessment partnership.

Source: Australia's estuaries: Assessing their condition, March 2000; Australia's near pristine estuaries: assets worth protecting, National Land and Water Resource Audit.

Topic contact: Last updated: October 4, 2013