Classification of Australian Coastal Waterways

The process of grouping similar types of wetlands is termed wetland classification and different classification systems may be required for different purposes. All wetland classifications are based on describing attributes which may be measured and which, when combined, help to define the nature of a specific wetland and distinguish it from others.

Many wetland classification systems are in use within Australia. Most are hierarchical and based on biophysical or physicochemical features.

Before deciding on a classification system for wetlands it is important to establish the purpose for the classification, and to establish the data required to classify the wetlands according to their inherent characteristics. There is no point in establishing an elaborate classification system if that system requires a level of inventory data that is unavailable.

Recently there has been agreement at an Australian national level to accept a wetland classification based on broad wetland ecosystems [1] as follows:

  • marine (coastal wetlands including rocky shore);
  • estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes and mangrove swamps);
  • riverine (rivers and streams);
  • lacustrine (lakes);
  • palustrine (marshes, swamps and bogs);
  • reservoirs (including water storage areas, excavations, wastewater ponds, irrigation channels, rice fields, canals); and
  • subterranean.

Links to other (non-estuarine) wetland typologies and conceptual models










Back to top of page


  1. Cowardin, L.M., Carter, V., Golet, F.C. and LaRoe, E.T. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service; Washington, D.C.

Back to top of page