Key Biodiversity Areas

Gulf Plains

Eight areas in Australia have been declared Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) based on their significance for Brolgas or Sarus Cranes. Ozcranes KBAs Part 1» gives an introduction to the program in Australia and details of the Atherton Tablelands KBA, with Sarus Crane as the sole trigger species. This page covers the Gulf Plains KBA, significant for both Sarus Cranes and Brolgas, and a range of other waterbirds. Although Least Concern in Australia, the Sarus Crane is globally Vulnerable due to declines and threats in Asia». Summaries for six more KBAs important for Brolgas in Western Australia and the Northern Territory are in KBAs: WA and NT».

Gulf Plains KBA

Gulf Plains IBA

← Gulf Plains KBA, north-west Queensland (Birdata)

This KBA includes (part of) the only known significant breeding area for Australian Sarus Cranes and supports over 1% of the global population of Brolgas. Over 20 bird species in this area have populations that meet the various criteria to designate a KBA, and it is particularly important for migratory shorebirds. Much of the Gulf Plains is held under grazing leases from the Queensland government.

In respect of its importance to breeding Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, the boundaries of this KBA should be reconsidered – see Sundar et al. 2019, ‘Sympatric cranes in northern Australia: abundance, breeding success, habitat preference and diet’ (abstract available at the link). This ongoing project is extending the known breeding sites for both crane species in the Gulf. On Ozcranes, see the Gulf Plains breeding study», including a breeding site map.

Management issues

↓ Gulf Plains breeding wetland (K.S. Gopi Sundar).
Wetland sites in woodland are more preferred by Sarus Cranes, than Brolgas.

Gulf Plains wetland

Brolgas and Sarus Cranes in the Gulf use various wetlands occurring in woodlands, savannahs and grasslands modified by cattle grazing, fire and invasive species. Management considerations from the nomination submission prepared by Ian Fox are to:

Manage invasion of invasive alien weeds including Cryptostegia grandiflora (Rubber Vine) and Parkinsonia aculeata on floodplains and riparian areas, and Cenchrus ciliaris (Buffel Grass) and Ziziphus mauritianus (Chinee Apple) on dunes and abandoned levees. Monitor grazing of wetlands by cattle, feral horses and feral pigs.


Currently the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group and Southern Gulf Catchments NRM are implementing comprehensive programs with landholders including weed management and sustainable grazing. However project reports on these NRM websites show that natural resources funding is still being used to fence wetlands with all barbed wire, despite known risks for cranes and other large waterbirds (see Ozcranes Crane-friendly Fencing pages»).

Sarus breeding area, Gulf of Carpentaria

Rubber vine is a problem for many northern wetlands, including critical breeding areas for Sarus Cranes and Brolgas (courtesy Dr George Archibald) →

Irrigation schemes

Large scale impoundments for crop irrigation could reduce flow to Sarus breeding floodplains. The $2 billion IFED scheme was abandoned but the Etheridge Shire has proposed further initiatives with potentially, funding from the National Water Infrastructure Fund. Gulf catchments are included in CSIRO assessments for irrigation projects for the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce


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Next: Brolga KBAs», six KBAs in Western Australia and Northern Territory important for Brolgas

For full information on any KBA visit BirdLife Datazone. In the Simple Search form, enter the name of the KBA: this gives a brief note on the formal criteria. Click on the NAME of the KBA (it is a link, though it looks like text) to see Tabs with detailed information and maps. A map tool is available at BirdLife Australia KBA page and the original establishment report for KBAs in Australia can be downloaded here, scroll down to ‘Australia's Important Bird Areas: Key sites for bird conservation’, December 2009, by G Dutson, S Garnett and C Gole.

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