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Pulu Keeling National Park Ramsar Site

Ecological Character Description

Citation: Hale, J., 2010, Ecological Character Description for the Pulu Keeling National Park Ramsar Site. Report to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra.


Jean-Paul Hobbs, James Cook University (technical advice, local knowledge and review)

Rhonda Butcher, Water’s Edge Consulting (technical advice and review)

Halina Kobryn, Murdoch University (mapping and GIS)

Steering committee members:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

  • Parks Australia, Planning, Tourism and National Landscapes Section

  • Parks Australia, Pulu Keeling National Park

  • Parks Australia, Christmas Island National Park

  • Water Reform Division, Wetlands Section

This report was compiled according to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities style guide.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Government or the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities or the Administrative Authority for Ramsar in Australia.

While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the contents of this publication are factually correct, the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the contents, and shall not be liable for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the contents of this publication. Guidance on the development of Ecological Character Descriptions, including Limits of Acceptable change, are areas of active policy development. Accordingly there may be differences in the type of information contained in this Ecological Character Description, to those of other Ramsar wetlands.

This information does not create a policy position to be applied in statutory decision making. Further it does not provide assessment of any particular action within the meaning of the EPBC Act, nor replace the role of the Minister or his delegate in making an informed decision on any action.

This report is not a substitute for professional advice rather it is intended to inform professional opinion by providing the authors' assessment of available evidence on change in ecological character. This information is provided without prejudice to any final decision by the Administrative Authority for Ramsar in Australia on change in ecological character in accordance with the requirements of Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention. Users should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.

Table of Contents

Glossary iii

List of Abbreviations vi

Executive Summary vii

1. Introduction 1

1.1 Site details 1

1.2 Statement of purpose 1

1.3 Relevant treaties, legislation and regulations 3

1.4 Method 5

2. General Description of the PKNP Ramsar Site 6

2.1 Location 6

2.2 Overview of the site 7

2.3 Land tenure 7

2.4 Wetland types 7

2.5 Ramsar criteria 11

2.5.1 Criteria under which the site was designated 11

2.5.2 Assessment based on current information and Ramsar criteria 11

3. Critical Components and Processes 16

3.1 Identifying critical components and processes 16

3.2 Essential elements 18

3.2.1 Climate 19

3.2.2 Geomorphology 21

3.2.3 Hydrology 21

3.2.4 Water Quality 22

3.2.5 Vegetation 22

3.3 Critical components and processes 24

3.3.1 Seagrass 24

3.3.2 Marine Invertebrates 24

3.3.3 Fish 25

3.3.4 Marine Turtles 26

3.3.5 Waterbirds 27

4 Ecosystem services 29

4.1 Overview of benefits and services 29

4.2 Identifying critical ecosystem services and benefits 30

4.3 Critical services 30

4.3.1 Supports near natural wetland types 30

4.3.2 Supports threatened species – Cocos buff-banded rail 31

4.3.3 Supports threatened species – Marine turtles 32

4.3.4 Provides physical habitat for breeding waterbirds 34

4.4.5 Supports biodiversity 36

4.4 Non-critical Services 38

4.4.1 Recreation and tourism 38

4.5.2 Cultural heritage 38

4.5.3 Scientific research 38

5. Threats to Ecological Character 39

5.1 Biological resource utilisation 41

5.2 Recreation 41

5.3 Invasive species 42

5.3.1 Weeds 42

5.3.2 Yellow crazy ants 42

5.4 Climate change 43

5.5 Summary of threats 44

6. Limits of Acceptable Change 46

6.1 Process for setting Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) 46

6.2 LAC for the PKNP Ramsar site 46

7. Current Ecological Character and Changes Since Designation 50

8. Knowledge Gaps 51

9. Monitoring needs 52

10. Communication and Education Messages 54

References 56

Appendix A: Methods 61

A.1 Approach 61

A.2 Consultant Team 62

Appendix B: Wetland birds recorded in the PKNP Ramsar Site 64

Appendix C: Invertebrates 66

Appendix D: Fish 71

Appendix E: Flora (vascular) 75


Definitions of words associated with ecological character descriptions (DEWHA 2008 and references cited within).


benefits/services are defined in accordance with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment definition of ecosystem services as "the benefits that people receive from ecosystems (Ramsar Convention 2005, Resolution IX.1 Annex A).

See also “Ecosystem Services”.

Biogeographic region

a scientifically rigorous determination of regions as established using biological and physical parameters such as climate, soil type, vegetation cover, etc (Ramsar Convention 2005).

Biological diversity

the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species (genetic diversity), between species (species diversity), of ecosystems (ecosystem diversity), and of ecological processes. This definition is largely based on the one contained in Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (Ramsar Convention 2005).

Change in ecological character

is defined as the human-induced adverse alteration of any ecosystem component, process, and/or ecosystem benefit/service (Ramsar Convention 2005, Resolution IX.1 Annex A).


an assemblage of organisms characterised by a distinctive combination of species occupying a common environment and interacting with one another (ANZECC and ARMCANZ 2000).

Community Composition

all the types of taxa present in a community (ANZECC and ARMCANZ 2000).

Conceptual model

wetland conceptual models express ideas about components and processes deemed important for wetland ecosystems (Gross 2003)

Contracting Parties

are countries that are Member States to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; 153 as at September 2006. Membership in the Convention is open to all states that are members of the United Nations, one of the UN specialized agencies, or the International Atomic Energy Agency, or is a Party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice

Critical stage

meaning stage of the life cycle of wetland-dependent species. Critical stages being those activities (breeding, migration stopovers, moulting etc.) which if interrupted or prevented from occurring may threaten long-term conservation of the species. (Ramsar Convention 2005).

Ecological character

is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.


the complex of living communities (including human communities) and non-living environment (Ecosystem Components) interacting (through Ecological Processes) as a functional unit which provides inter alia a variety of benefits to people (Ecosystem Services). (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

Ecosystem components

include the physical, chemical and biological parts of a wetland (from large scale to very small scale, e.g. habitat, species and genes) (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

Ecosystem processes

are the changes or reactions which occur naturally within wetland systems. They may be physical, chemical or biological. (Ramsar Convention 1996, Resolution VI.1 Annex A). 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 (Australian Heritage Commission 2002)

Ecosystem services

are the benefits that people receive or obtain from an ecosystem. The components of ecosystem services are provisioning (e.g. food & water), regulating (e.g. flood control), cultural (e.g. spiritual, recreational), and supporting (e.g. nutrient cycling, ecological value). (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

See also “Benefits”.

Essential elements

a component or process that has an essential influence on the critical CPS of the wetland. Should the essential element cease, reduce, or is lost, it would result in a detrimental impact on one or more critical component, process or service. Critical component, process or service may depend in part or fully on essential elements, but an essential element is not in itself critical for defining the ecological character of the site.

Fluvial geomorphology

the study of water-shaped landforms (Gordon et al. 1999); synonymous with “geomorphology” for this report.

Indigenous species

a species that originates and occurs naturally in a particular country (Ramsar Convention 2005).

Limits of Acceptable Change

the variation that is considered acceptable in a particular component or process of the ecological character of the wetland without indicating change in ecological character which may lead to a reduction or loss of the criteria for which the site was Ramsar listed’ (modified from definition adopted by Phillips 2006).

List of Wetlands of International Importance ("the Ramsar List")

the list of wetlands which have been designated by the Ramsar Contracting Party in which they reside as internationally important, according to one or more of the criteria that have been adopted by the Conference of the Parties.


city in Iran, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, where the Convention on Wetlands was signed on 2 February 1971; thus the Convention's short title, "Ramsar Convention on Wetlands".

Ramsar Criteria

Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance, used by Contracting Parties and advisory bodies to identify wetlands as qualifying for the Ramsar List on the basis of representativeness or uniqueness or of biodiversity values.

Ramsar Convention

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Ramsar (Iran), 2 February 1971. UN Treaty Series No. 14583. As amended by the Paris Protocol, 3 December 1982, and Regina Amendments, 28 May 1987. The abbreviated names "Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)" or "Ramsar Convention" are more commonly used.

Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS)

the form upon which Contracting Parties record relevant data on proposed Wetlands of International Importance for inclusion in the Ramsar Database; covers identifying details like geographical coordinates and surface area, criteria for inclusion in the Ramsar List and wetland types present, hydrological, ecological, and socioeconomic issues among others, ownership and jurisdictions, and conservation measures taken and needed.

Ramsar List

the List of Wetlands of International Importance

Ramsar Sites

wetlands designated by the Contracting Parties for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance because they meet one or more of the Ramsar Criteria


"birds ecologically dependent on wetlands" (Article 1.2). This definition thus includes any wetland bird species. However, at the broad level of taxonomic order, it includes especially:

  • penguins: Sphenisciformes.

  • divers: Gaviiformes;

  • grebes: Podicipediformes;

  • wetland related pelicans, cormorants, darters and allies: Pelecaniformes;

  • herons, bitterns, storks, ibises and spoonbills: Ciconiiformes;

  • flamingos: Phoenicopteriformes:

  • screamers, swans, geese and ducks (wildfowl): Anseriformes;

  • wetland related raptors: Accipitriformes and Falconiformes;

  • wetland related cranes, rails and allies: Gruiformes;

  • Hoatzin: Opisthocomiformes;

  • wetland related jacanas, waders (or shorebirds), gulls, skimmers and terns: Charadriiformes;

  • coucals: Cuculiformes; and

  • wetland related owls: Strigiformes;


are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres (Ramsar Convention 1987).

Wetland types

as defined by the Ramsar Convention’s wetland classification system [].

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