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Assessing wetland values and services

When assigning significance to a wetland or making management decisions about a wetland, it is important that decision makers take into account the full range of ecological, economic and social values a wetland provides.

Historically, wetland management decisions have favoured either wetland conversion or management for a single ecosystem service such as water supply or food production. As wetlands become scarcer and under more pressure, and as we develop a better understanding of the full range of values provided by them, the best options will increasingly involve managing wetlands for a broader array of services and in alignment with the wise use principles of the Ramsar Convention.

Bird hide, Photo by Andrea Ferris

Quick facts

Some wetlands

have a monetary value which is derived by allocating a price for the services provided by the wetland based on if those services were delivered by other means such as infrastructure. Sometimes, a price cannot be placed on the wetland value. These non-monetary values often reflect social or cultural connections to a wetland, e.g. the ability to go swimming.[6][5]


In order to consider wetland values and services a common framework and terminology is required. The maintenance and delivery of values and services is dependent on a range of aspects of a wetland including its components and supporting environmental processes. It is important to understand the processes at the scale at which they function ecologically, this may be broader than the wetland itself and incorporate the larger landscape.

Relationship between wetlands (components, processes), ecosystem services and the values for different beneficiaries by Queensland Wetlands Program, 2013


Ecosystem services refer to the goods and services provided by ecosystems that benefit, sustain and support the environmental, social and economic well-being of people (SEQ Ecosystem Services Framework). These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation, and disease; supporting services such as soil formation and nutrient cycling; and cultural services such as recreational, spiritual, religious, and other non-material benefits[1].

Values include those benefits wetlands provide to people including existence values. Values provide context to ecosystem services by linking them directly to the people whom they benefit. Values refer to the benefits people receive from ecosystems and include ecosystem services. Values can include intrinsic existence benefits.

Beneficiaries are the people who benefit from wetland values and services. They can be located within, close to or far away from the wetland system. They can receive multiple benefits simultaneously and may or may not be aware of the benefits they are receiving (adapted from[3]).

Values, ecological character and wise use of wetlands

A full suite of wetland values has been developed and can be used as the starting point for identifying the environmental values of a specific wetland. This incorporates the values identified in the Millennium Report: Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Wetlands and Water and the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009.

Central to maintaining and protecting the values of internationally and nationally important wetlands is understanding and documenting their ecological character. Ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time[4].

The National framework for describing the ecological character of Australian Ramsar Wetlands provides an example of how an understanding of the components, processes and services of wetlands is being used to inform management and research initiatives and identify pressures on wetlands.

Under the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Conceptual Framework[2], the ‘wise use’ of wetlands equates to the maintenance of ecosystem benefits/services to ensure long-term maintenance of biodiversity as well as human well-being and poverty alleviation.

The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement for the Great Barrier Reef

The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement for the Great Barrier Reef is a review of scientific knowledge on water quality issues in the Great Barrier Reef. The statement was produced by a multidisciplinary group of scientists, with oversight from the Reef Independent Science Panel. It arrives at a consensus on the current understanding of the Great Barrier Reef system, and evaluates the ability of current initiatives to meet water quality targets set in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017–2022.

A key theme of the statement is the importance of whole-of-catchment management. The complex interactions between wetlands and catchments and flow-on effects to the Great Barrier Reef are recognised throughout the statement. Chapter 4 focuses on the role of wetlands, in terms of water quality, and the other ecosystem services they provide. A summary of the potential use and effectiveness of treatments systems is also provided.

Wetland on-line education modules

A series of on-line education modules, including Deriving benefits and services from wetlands, has been prepared as a resource for people who want to learn more about wetlands.

Users can download and use the contents of this education module to meet their learning and training needs. This information should be used in conjunction with information found on this website.

Additional information


  1. ^ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. [online], Island Press, Washington, DC.. Available at:
  2. ^ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Wetlands and Water Synthesis, page 13 (2005), World Resources Institute, Washington, DC..
  3. ^ Plant, R, Taylor, C, Hamstead, M & Prior, T (2012), Recognising the broader benefits of aquatic systems in water planning: an ecosystem services approach. Waterlines report, National Water Commission, Canberra, ACT.
  4. ^ Ramsar, (2005). Resolution IX.1 Annex A: A Conceptual Framework for the wise use of wetlands and the maintenance of their ecological character. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2013].
  5. ^ Stuip, MAM, Baker, CJ & Oosterberg, W (2002), The Socio-economics of wetlands. [online], Wetlands International and RIZA, Amsterdam. Available at:
  6. ^ The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands (2013). [online], Institute for European Environmental Policy Ramsar Secretariat, Gland. Available at:–-how-much-is-a.

Last updated: 14 November 2018

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2018) Assessing wetland values and services, WetlandInfo website, accessed 2 February 2022. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science