Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
About the document
An Ecological Character Description describes the ecological character of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Wetland of International Importance. The Ecological Character Description is a fundamental management tool for site managers, forming the basis of management planning and action as well as including guidance on site monitoring requirements to detect changes in the ecological character of the site.
Western Port is situated in south-eastern Australia, approximately 60 km south-east of Melbourne, Victoria. It is situated within Drainage Division 2: South East Coast identified by Australian Water Resources Council, and Bass Strait Province of the Interim Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia.
In 1982, a large portion of Western Port was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention). The site occupies 59,297 ha and consists of large shallow intertidal areas dissected by deeper channels, and a narrow strip of adjacent coastal land in some areas.
The ecological character of a wetland is the sum of all the components, processes and services of that wetland. Ecosystem components are physical, chemical and biological parts of a wetland, from large-scale to very small-scale (e.g. habitat, species and genes). Ecosystem processes are the dynamic forces within an ecosystem. They include all those processes that occur between organisms and within and between populations and communities, including interactions with the non-living environment, that result in existing ecosystems and bring about changes in ecosystems over time. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from ecosystems.
This document describes the critical components, processes and services for the Western Port Ramsar site. Western Port has nine critical components and processes: wetland bathymetry, geomorphology and sedimentation, seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh, significant flora species, waterbirds, marine invertebrates, fish, and significant fauna species. It also has 10 critical services: commercial port; commercial fishing; recreational fishing; passive recreation; spiritual and inspirational; biodiversity—wetland type/habitat availability; biodiversity—high diversity of waterbird species; distinct or unique wetland species—seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh communities; threatened wetland species, habitats and ecosystems; and priority wetland species and ecosystems.
The description also identifies limits of acceptable change which describe the range of variation which key aspects of the ecology of the site can vary without representing a change in the ecological character. Limits of acceptable change for Western Port have been proposed for all critical components, processes and benefits and services based on existing data.
This document also describes the current Ramsar listing criteria met by the site, the key threats and knowledge gaps for Western Port. Recommended monitoring needs and communication messages are also provided.
Further information on what Ecological Character Descriptions are and how critical components, processes and services are identified is available in the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands – Module 2 of the National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands – Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia.