The Gippsland Lakes are a system of coastal lagoons in the southeast of Victoria. The lakes are an area of extremely high wetland bird diversity and of international significance. They are characterised by dunes, seagrasses, saltmarshes, lagoons, swamps, Maleleucas and a variety of coastal vegetation, providing an important feeding, breeding and resting area for birds.
What are the key natural features of this area?
- Dunes that separate the lagoons from Ninety Mile Beach and the ocean. The main lakes are Lake Wellington in the west, which feeds to the centrally located Lake Victoria which is connected to Lake King to the east and north. There are also a number of smaller lagoons with swamps and low-lying areas including Lake Reeve which runs parallel to Ninety Mile Beach.
- The entrance to the lakes, which is through the artificially created and maintained Lakes Entrance, east of Lake King. It was cut in the foredunes in 1889 to create a shipping channel to Gippsland Lakes. The channel requires frequent dredging to maintain the opening against the deposition of sand. It is protected by a series of wooden jetties, granite walls and concrete piers. It supports important seagrass beds, as well as a segmented coastal lagoon made up mainly of shallow sand banks at Cunningham Arm.
- The five main river systems that feed the lakes. The Latrobe and Avon Rivers flow into Lake Wellington and the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo Rivers flow into Lake King. A mobile sand bar is located just offshore from the entrance. Water moves in and out of the entrance according to the relative levels of the lakes and sea.
- The lakes are subject to flooding events which can change the seabed by scouring away sand and seagrass beds. Flooding also raises the water level inside the lakes and lead to algal blooms due to an excess of nutrients in the water.
- The extremely high wetland bird diversity. The area has Ramsar wetlands of international significance and contains highly significant coastal and dune habitats. Seagrasses, Ruppia/estuarine grass and important coastal grasses and heath are all found here.
- The extensive dune systems. There are saltmarsh areas, deltas formed by the growth of reed swamp, Maleleuca swamp areas, lagoonal and swampy areas, migrating sandy shoals and bars, and islands vegetated by sedges, reed, grasses and banksias.
- Coastal vegetation behind and in front of the dunes. Tea-tree thickets and Coast Banksia woodlands grow behind the dunes. Swamp vegetation grows around the lakes and includes rushes, sedges and Swamp Paperbark. Heath vegetation is adapted to grow in poor soils. This includes species such as Shining Peppermint, Yertchuk, Coastal Tea-tree and Saw Banksia. Coastal vegetation growing along the seaward side of the dunes is adapted to grow in harsh conditions of wind, salt, sun, shifting sand, little water and few nutrients. These plants include Hairy Spinifex, Marram Grass, Cushion Bush, Coast Saltbush, Sea Rocket and Coastal Everlasting.
- The freshwater lakes - the shoreline of Lake Wellington has the largest area of freshwater swampland in Victoria. Many of the tidal deltas in this area are under threat of erosion because of dieback of reed swamp, which is likely the result of increasing salinity in the lakes. Lake Wellington is a flat-bottomed basin of organic-rich, soft mud or sandy mud. Lake Victoria and Lake King meet at the entrance to Bass Strait, and have more saline environments compared to Lake Wellington. The floor of Lake Reeve, the southernmost part of Gippsland Lakes, consists of sand, shell and mud. Lake Reeve is a narrow and very shallow lagoon with extensive saline mud and sand flats.
- Seagrass meadows and algae flourish in Lake Victoria and Lake King. Shallower areas of Reeve Channel also support productive seagrass meadows. Fraser Island, Flannagan Island and Rigby Island, south of Reeve Channel, have channels and shallow sand banks extending from the shores which support more areas of seagrass.
- Red Bluff, near Lake Tyers is a sandstone marine cliff with lenses of pebbles, clay and gravel. The cliff has a shore platform at the base is the only naturally occurring intertidal rocky habitat in the Lakes Entrance region.
- A dune-capped sand barrier formation extends for approximately 50 km from Red Bluff to Point Ricardo, east of Marlo. This dune barrier encloses a complex system of swamps and lagoons and blocks or diverts the mouth of several creeks and rivers. The dune is fronted by a narrow steeply sloped beach.
- Gippsland Lakes is a Ramsar wetland of international importance. It is also listed in both the Japan Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) and the China Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA). These recognise the contribution of the Gippsland Lakes in supporting large numbers of migratory and other wetland bird species. Within the Lakes there are also 41 species (6 flora and 35 fauna) listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.
- The Ninety Mile Beach is a good place to observe shore and ocean birds such as shearwaters, terns and gulls. Parts of the Gippsland Lakes system, including Lake Reeve, are listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as waterfowl habitat. The lakes attract the largest concentration of migratory waders in East Gippsland and are host to breeding colonies of the vulnerable Fairy Terns and Little Terns. You may also observe Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit, to name a few.
- Within heathy woodland areas, you will see many species of bird including the Common Bronze Wing, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Grey Butcherbird, Eastern Yellow Robin and the gracious Wedge-tailed Eagle.
- The area supports a large population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Black Wallabies and the common Brush-tailed and Ring-tailed Possums. Less common mammals include Sugar Gliders, Eastern Pygmy Possums and the endangered New Holland Mouse.
- Raymond Island is located just offshore from Paynesville and divides Lakes Victoria and King. The island supports a large colony of koalas.
Marine Protected Areas:
Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site
Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park