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.
The Coral Sea National Nature Reserves comprises of the Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve and the Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve. Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve is located in the central Coral Sea, its centre being about 440 km east of Cairns, Queensland. Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve is also located in the central Coral Sea, its centre being about 650 km east-south-east of Cairns and 200 km east-south-east of Coringa-Herald National nature Reserve.
The site comprises oceanic islet and reef habitats that are representative of the Coral Sea region and that are protected and in near pristine condition. Several islets within the site include undisturbed sand-cay habitat that is used for nesting by the globally endangered and migratory Green Turtle Chelonia mydas, and forest and shrubland habitat that support important breeding populations of terns and seabirds. Associated coral reef habitats support marine benthic flora communities that are distinct from those of the Great Barrier Reef, and may provide links for species exchange between the Pacific Ocean reefs and the Great Barrier Reef. The site also supports a relatively rich diversity of species, and feeding habitat for migratory shorebirds and seabirds.
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 report identifies those ecological components, processes and ecosystem services considered most critical for sustaining the character at the site. In particular, the services provided at the site are:
- Representative of unique ecosystems in the bioregion
- Supports threatened species of marine turtles: Green Turtle Chelonia mydas and Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricate
- Supports high species diversity with notable occurences of:
- marine molluscs
- decapod crustaceans
- marine algae
- bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers)
- soft and hard corals, and
- waterbirds (migratory and other seabirds)
- Supports significant forests of Pisonia grandis in the bioregion
- Supports animal taxa at a vulnerable or critical stage of their lifecycle
- Breeding Green turtles
- Nursery area of fish with open-water adult stages, and
- Breeding seabirds
- Supports large numbers of waterbirds (migratory and other seabirds).
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 the Coral Sea National Nature Reserves 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 Coral Sea National Nature Reserves. Recommended monitoring needs and communication messages are also provided.
There may be differences in the type of information contained in this Ecological Character Description to those of other Ramsar Wetlands as this Ecological Character Description preceded agreement by the Natural Resources Management Ministerial Council to the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australian Wetlands (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2008). 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.