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Wetland definition

There are a number of different definitions of wetlands in Queensland, mainly due to the manner in which legislation has developed over time. The definitions used in Queensland are available in the Queensland Wetland Definition and Delineation Guideline—Part A. Part B provides guidance on the delineation and mapping of wetlands consistent with the Queensland Wetlands Program definition.

Ibis colony in a lignum swamp in the Cooper River floodplain, Photo by Roger Jaensch, Wetlands International

Quick facts

The wetland definition
used on WetlandInfo is based on the Ramsar Convention (1971) and is consistent with the definition used in the Strategy for conservation and management of Queensland’s wetlands.


It is not easy to give a clear definition of what wetlands actually are. They are neither just land, nor just water as they can actually be both at the same time as well as being able to be seasonally aquatic or terrestrial.[1]

The Queensland Wetlands Program wetland definition is outlined below.

It is consistent with the Strategy for the conservation and management of Queensland's wetlands but includes 3 points of further clarification on the presence of wetland species and the composition of the substratum. These additional points enable an area to be identified as a wetland for mapping purposes and differentiate it from other areas.

Because of the great diversity of wetlands it is necessary to divide them into broad ‘groups’ or ‘types’. For the purposes of distinguishing these different wetland types, a classification system is required. One of the broader groupings of wetlands is based on systems (marine, estuarine, riverine, lacustrine, subterranean and palustrine).

Queensland Wetlands Program wetland definition:

Wetlands are areas of permanent or periodic/intermittent inundation, 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 6 metres. To be a wetland the area must have one or more of the following attributes:

  • at least periodically the land supports plants or animals that are adapted to and dependent on living in wet conditions for at least part of their life cycle, or
  • the substratum is predominantly undrained soils that are saturated, flooded or ponded long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper layers, or
  • the substratum is not soil and is saturated with water, or covered by water at some time.

Examples under this definition include:

  • those areas shown as a river, stream, creek, swamp, lake, marsh, waterhole, wetland, billabong, pool or spring on the latest Sunmap1:25,000, 1:50,000, 1:100,000 or 1:250,000 topographic map
  • areas defined as wetlands on local or regional maps prepared with the aim of mapping wetlands
  • wetland regional ecosystems (REs) (Attachment 1) as defined by the Queensland Herbarium (Environmental Protection Agency 2005a)
  • areas containing recognised hydrophytes as provided by the Queensland Herbarium (Attachment 2)
  • saturated parts of the riparian zone
  • artificial wetlands such as farm dams
  • water bodies not connected to rivers or flowing water such as billabongs and rock pools.

Examples under this definition exclude:

  • areas that may be covered by water but are not wetlands according to the definition
  • floodplains that are intermittently covered by flowing water but do not meet the hydrophytes and soil criteria
  • riparian zone above the saturation level.

Wetland on-line education modules

A series of on-line education modules, including What is a wetland?, 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.

This resource outlines the key principles of a wetland definition and should not be used for statutory purpose.


  1. ^ Wetlands International. Wetlands International Indonesia Programme - What are wetlands?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 July 2012].

Last updated: 12 May 2015

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2015) Wetland definition, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 April 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science