Securing the Future of the Gippsland Lakes

19 February 2024

Securing the Future of the Gippsland Lakes – Report from the Royal Society of Victoria’s Roundtable, 26 May 2023

The Gippsland Lakes comprise the largest estuarine lagoon system on the Australian continent and the largest coastal wetland complex in southeastern Australia, encompassing linked and isolated lagoons, swamps, active and abandoned river and tidal channels within the Gippsland Basin. The Lakes are one of 12 wetland systems in Victoria currently listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an international agreement for the conservation of wetlands. The Lakes have been listed as a Ramsar site since 1982, covering over 600 square kilometres. Once the entire terrestrial catchment area is taken into consideration, the area of concern takes in 20,000 square kilometres.

This report and its recommendations from the Royal Society of Victoria (RSV) are released in the context of the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s renewal of the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site Management Plan, which aims to revisit and reestablish a framework for the maintenance of the Lakes’ unique ecological characteristics through “the promotion of conservation and wise, sustainable use.” It follows a concern with the nature and health of the Gippsland Lakes sustained by the RSV for almost 60 years, dating from the East Gippsland Symposium held in 1967 and the subsequent publication of related papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria.

Roundtable presenters and participants, from Left: Dr David Low, Professor Bruce Thom AM, Mr Duncan Malcolm AM, Dr Michael Spencer, Professor Jamie Pittock, Dr Kathleen McInnes, Mr Neville Rosengren (on screen), Professor David Kennedy, Professor Peter Gell, Professor Perran Cook (obscured), Dr Birgita Hansen, Dr Jason Alexandra (obscured), Professor Max Finlayson, Mr Michael Vanderzee, Mr Rob Gell, Mr Sean Phillipson (obscured). Photo: Mike Flattley.

This report draws on scholarship presented from a roundtable held at the RSV on 26 May 2023 involving research expertise with First Nations representation. It summarises the geomorphological character of the Lakes system, the current state of estuarine health, and anticipates the impacts of a drying regional climate and rising sea levels on the interaction of the marine and freshwater ecological conditions. Papers from the roundtable will be published in the 2024 volume of the Proceedings.

Recommendations in the report are grouped under these four categories:

  1. Share Knowledge for Collective Understanding
  2. Address Knowledge Gaps to Enable Adaptive Decision Making
  3. Establish and Maintain an Adaptive, Collaborative Governance Regime
  4. Intervene and Invest for Ecological and Cultural Resilience

The RSV is communicating the report’s recommendations to raise awareness of the threat to the iconic coastline of the Outer Barrier (90 Mile Beach) posed by rising sea levels, along with the manifold pressures placed on wildlife and habitats by the growth of human industries, activities and population. Ultimately, we call for sustained research to fill substantial gaps in our collective knowledge base to enable more informed and effective decision making as we “feel our way” to a desired future.

This RSV paper is independent, authoritative, and evidence-based, providing avenues for confronting a period of great uncertainty on points of governance, management and intervention to sustain the Gippsland Lakes as one of Australia’s biodiversity success stories.