Wetland management profile

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Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps are 

non-tidal, wooded wetlands occurring in 

equatorial tropical and sub-tropical areas of 

Queensland. Occupying depressions, 

drainage lines and dune swales, they might 

be inundated with water for 3–6 months of 

the year. They might be dominated by one 

plant species, such as the melaleucas 

(commonly known as tea-trees or 

paperbarks) and might also have a small 

range of trees, shrubs and grasses. These 

wetlands provide nesting or roosting sites for 

a number of bird and bat species, but are 

most signifi cant as a food resource for 

migratory species. They also play an 

important role in fi ltering water that fl ows 

through them by removing contaminants and 

nutrients. Coastal and sub-coastal tree 

swamps are naturally restricted and highly 

susceptible to threats such as clearing for 

agricultural, urban and industrial 

development; fi re; weed and pest invasion; 

and modifi cation of water fl ows by man-

made structures.

This profi le covers the habitat types of 

wetlands termed fl oodplain tree swamps—

Melaleuca spp. and Eucalyptus spp. and 

coastal and sub-coastal non-fl oodplain tree 

swamps—Melaleuca spp. and Eucalypt spp..

This typology, developed by the Queensland 

Wetlands Program, also forms the basis for a set 

of conceptual models that are linked to 

dynamic wetlands mapping, both of which can 

be accessed through the WetlandInfo website 



This management profi le covers coastal and sub-

coastal tree swamps dominated by tree species from 

the Myrtaceae family, such as melaleucas, eucalypts 

and corymbias. For more information on tree swamps 

dominated by palm species, see the coastal palm 

swamps profi le. Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps 

are low-lying areas, seasonally inundated by freshwater 

and dominated by species adapted to saturated soil 

conditions or inundation, such as the Melaleuca spp. 

and some species of eucalypts and corymbias.    

The genus Melaleuca is highly diverse with about 46 

different species growing throughout Queensland, 

some of them in wetlands (Greenway, 1998). 

Melaleucas are often known as ’paperbarks’ due to 

the distinctive paper-like layers of bark, separated by 

thin fi brous layers that can build up to 5 cm thick 

before peeling off. This bark protects the tree from 

moisture loss and fi re. The fi rst description of these 

trees by the early European explorers noted a white, 

paper-like bark with a stocking of black bark. It has 

been suggested that the black stocking was probably 

scarring due to the effects of fi re (Boland et al., 1984). 


Map showing the distribution of coastal and sub-coastal 

tree swamps in Queensland; grey lines indicate drainage 

divisions. Map: From Queensland Wetlands Mapping v2.0 

(September 2009)


Some species of eucalypt and bloodwoods 

(corymbia), such as the river red gum Eucalyptus 

camaldulensis, swamp mahogany Eucalyptus robusta

coolabah E. coolabah, forest red gum E. tereticornis

Moreton Bay ash Corymbia tessellaris and Clarkson’s 

bloodwood Corymbia clarksoniana are also adapted 

for living in waterlogged conditions. In the Murray–

Darling Basin (Queensland) coastal and sub-coastal 

tree swamps dominated by E. camaldulensis occur. 

E.camaldulensis is the most widespread eucalypt in 

Australia, typically found associated with water 

courses and drainage depressions (Boland, 1984). 

Seedlings can develop adventitious and 

aerenchymatous roots to cope with anoxia resulting 

from waterlogging (Heinrich, 1990), however, they 

cannot survive complete immersion unless it is brief 

(Roberts & Marston, 2000). E. camaldulensis has 

probably one of the fastest growth rates for a tree and 

with a good water supply can attain a height of 

12–15 m in a few years (Cunningham et al., 1981).

This profi le focuses on non-riverine swamps—the 

palustrine wetlands—though these treed swamps can 

also be found as a component of riparian vegetation. 

Even within the two types covered in this profi le 

(fl oodplain and non-fl oodplain tree swamps), climatic 

factors, position within the landscape, hydrology

water regime and vegetation composition can vary 

substantially; for example, melaleuca species are 

dominant in non-fl oodplain wetlands; however, on 

fl at land with good subsoil moisture adjacent to 

streams, they frequently occur alongside eucalypts in 

mixed tall open-forests (Boland et al., 1984). 

Floodplain tree swamps (melaleuca and eucalypt) are 

embedded within alluvial fl oodplains, inhabiting the 

depressions where water persists for months after a 

fl ood event has occurred across the alluvial plain.

Leaves of melaleuca trees are generally alternate, fl at 

and green, sometimes silvery or hairy and can be upright 

and rigid (such as the broad-leaved tea-tree Melaleuca 

viridifl ora) or pendulous bundles of leaves (such as the 

swamp tea-tree M. dealbata). Flowering is commonly 

dramatic, in long fl uffy spikes at the end of branchlets

with colours that vary from white or cream (most 

commonly), to light green, pink, mauve, yellow or deep 

red. The fl owers are rich in nectar and attract a variety of 

feeding bird, bat and other mammal species. The trees 

have spreading root systems, providing stability during 

fl oods and prolonged waterlogging and are tolerant to a 

limited extent of both saline and brackish water.

Fibrous or adventitious roots around the lower trunk 

of the tree are thought to be breathing roots that help 

the tree survive during long periods of submersion, for 

although they thrive in moist environments, 

melaleucas cannot withstand permanent inundation 

(Hauenschild, 1999).

The fl oristic composition of coastal and sub-coastal 

tree swamps varies with the duration and depth of wet 

season fl ooding. As well as melaleucas and eucalypts, 

both of which can form almost pure stands, other fl ora 

found in coastal and sub-coastal tree swamp habitats 

include the cabbage tree palms Livistonia australis or 

L. decora, swamp box Lophostemon suaveolens

swamp oak Casuarina glaucaEndiandra sieberi and 

Melastoma malabathricum subsp. malabathricum.

The subcanopy can include liniment bush 

Asteromyrtus symphyocarpa, with false casuarina 

Calycopeplus casuarinoides on the margins of the 

wettest areas. The composition of the understorey also 

varies with location in Queensland and the length of 

time the swamp contains water, but can include 

shrubs such as quinine berry Petalostigma pubescens

Banksia dentata and golden grevillea Grevillea 

pteridifolia on the margins; sedges such as soft 

twigrush Baumea rubiginosaLepironia articulata and 

bogrush Schoenos breviofolius; noderushes such as 

Dapsilanthus ramosus; saw-sedges such as Gahnia 

sieberiana; reeds such as the common reed 

Phragmites australis; other grasses such as Ischaemum 

Red blossoms of the broad-leaved tea-tree 

Melaleuca viridifl ora  Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM 

Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamp dominated 

by broad-leaved tea-tree Melaleuca viridifl ora 

with a native grass understorey  

Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM


spp., swamp rice grass Leersia hexandra, blady grass 

Imperata cylindrica and saltwater couch Sporobolus 

virginicus (also known as sand or marine couch), fi re 

grass Schizachyrium spp., three-awn spear grasses 

Aristida spp., wanderrie grasses Eriachne spp., 

Pseudoraphis spinescens and Eremochloa bimaculata

open-tussock grassland of Ectrosia sp. (hare’s foot 

grass) or beetle grass Leptochloa fusca and ferns such 

as the climbing swamp fern Stenochlaena palustris 

and the swamp fern Blechnum indicum. Coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps can also contain rare and 

threatened fl ora species including Phaius australis

P. bernaysii and Schoenus scabripes.


Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamp habitats are 

widespread in coastal and sub-coastal districts from 

the New South Wales border north to Cape York and 

along the margins of the Gulf of Carpentaria and its 

river systems. In south-east Queensland signifi cant 

examples occur on Bribie, Stradbroke and Moreton 

Islands and at Coombabah Lake and Carbrook 

wetlands on the mainland and further north at 

Deepwater and Eurimbula national parks. In central 

Queensland, examples may be found in the Byfi eld/

Corio/Shoalwater Bay areas as well as Slade Point, 

Mackay. These wetland habitats are also found in the 

Hinchinbrook area, in Bowling Green Bay National 

Park and on Cape Melville, as well as in the Daintree 

in north Queensland. 


THE most extensive coastal and sub-

coastal tree swamps occur in depressions 

on broader fl oodplains, in the valleys 

between coastal and sub-coastal dunes 

or on the inland side of mangroves.

Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps mostly occur in 

coastal and sub-coastal, unconsolidated landscapes 

formed by wind and water action (land zones 1, 2 and 

3) on level or gently undulating topography

Their ability to tolerate fl ooding, salt and poor soil 

types has enabled melaleucas to colonise areas 

unsuitable for most eucalypts or many other species. 

The most extensive swamps occur in depressions on 

broader fl oodplains, in the valleys between coastal 

and sub-coastal dunes or on the inland side of 

mangroves (this mainly applies to melaleuca swamps). 

Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamp with a native 

grass ground layer, Iwasaki Wetlands

Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM

Swamp mahogany Eucalyptus robusta scattered 

through a coastal and sub-coastal tree swamp, 

Iwasaki Wetlands  Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM

Swamp fern Blechnum indicum is commonly 

found in the understorey of coastal tree swamps. 

Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM


FOR all coastal and sub-coastal tree 

swamps, adequate moisture is critical, 

either as free-standing, slow-draining 

surface water on clays, as groundwater 

close to the surface or in perched water 

tables among parallel or parabolic dunes.

They are found on a broad range of soil types, from 

the predominantly silty to loamy clays on the edges of 

water bodies (preferred by weeping tea-tree 

M. leucadendra and swamp paperbark 

M. quinquenervia) to sandy alluvia soils on a 

fl oodplain to the siliceous sands of the non-fl oodplain 

dune systems and poorly oxygenated marine clays or 

the black soil plains of south-east Queensland (Boland 

et al., 1984). Eucalypts prefer deep moist subsoils with 

clay content (Costermans, 1989) and though they are 

commonly related to channels of sandy watercourses 

and creeks (Boland, 1984), forming ribbon stands 

(riverine wetlands), they also extend over extensive 

areas of regularly fl ooded fl ats and can therefore form 

palustrine systems. 

For all coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps, adequate 

moisture is critical, either as free standing, slow 

draining surface water on clays; as ground water close 

to the surface; or in perched water tables among 

parallel or parabolic dunes.

The WetlandInfo website provides in-depth data, 

detailed mapping and distribution information for this 

wetland habitat type.

Queensland status and legislation

Wetlands have many values – not just for conservation 

purposes – and the range of values can vary for each 

wetland habitat type and location. The Queensland 

Government maintains several processes for 

establishing the signifi cance of wetlands. These 

processes inform legislation and regulations to protect 

wetlands, for example, the status assigned to wetlands 

under the regional ecosystem (RE) framework.

A comprehensive suite of wetlands assessment methods 

for various purposes exists, some of which have been 

applied in Queensland. More information on wetland 

signifi cance assessment methods and their application 

is available from the WetlandInfo website 

. Queensland has 

also nominated wetlands to A Directory of Important 

Wetlands of Australia (DIWA), see the appendix.

The Queensland Government has direct responsibility 

for the protection, conservation and management of 

wetlands in Queensland, a responsibility shared with 

local government and the Australian Government (for 

some wetlands of international signifi cance). These 

responsibilities are found in laws passed by the 

Queensland parliament, laws of the Commonwealth, 

international obligations and in agreements between 

state, local and the federal governments. More 

information on relevant legislation is available from 

the WetlandInfo website 


National conservation status

 The Moreton Bay, Shoalwater and Corio bay areas and 

the Great Sandy Strait Ramsar sites (Wetlands of 

International Importance under the Ramsar 

Convention) contain coastal and sub-coastal tree 

swamps (melaleuca and eucalypt). The Fraser Island, 

Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics World Heritage 

Areas, as defi ned in the World Heritage List 

maintained by the World Heritage Convention, also 

include areas of these wetland habitats. The 

Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area (Byfi eld), the 

Wide Bay Military Reserve (Tin Can Bay) and the 

Greenbank Military Training Area (Greenbank) are 

Commonwealth heritage places under the 

Commonwealth Heritage List and also include these 

wetland habitats. 

Weeping tea-tree Melaleuca leucadendra waterhole 

in Byfi eld National Park  Photo: Kylie Joyce, DERM


Several plant and animal species that occur in coastal 

ans sub-coastal tree swamps in Queensland are listed 

as threatened under the federal Environmental 

Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 

(EPBC Act) and/or the Queensland Nature 

Conservation Act 1992 (NC Act) and/or the IUCN Red 

List (see Species associated with coastal and sub-

coastal tree swamps).

Ramsar wetlands, threatened species, World Heritage 

properties and Commonwealth heritage places are 

matters of national environmental signifi cance (NES) 

under the EPBC Act and as such, are afforded 

protection under the Act. Any action that will, or is 

likely to have a signifi cant impact on a declared 

Ramsar wetland, threatened species, World Heritage 

property, or Commonwealth heritage place will be 

subject to an environmental assessment and approval 

regime under the EPBC Act. For each of these World 

Heritage and Ramsar sites, management plans or 

equivalent are in place; in some instances they may 

not apply to the entire Ramsar site. Recovery plans 

that set out research and management actions to 

support the recovery of threatened species under the 

EPBC Act might be available for some of these species 

(see ).

Cultural heritage values

 All wetland ecosystems are of material and cultural 

importance to Indigenous people and many will have 

profound cultural signifi cance and values. More than 

400 Indigenous cultural heritage sites have been 

recorded within coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps 

in Queensland, most dating from the mid-Holocene

being less than 4000 years old. Most coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps have not been systematically 

surveyed or assessed for cultural heritage signifi cance.

There is a very high likelihood of encountering 

cultural heritage sites within and adjacent to coastal 

and sub-coastal tree swamps. Evidence of traditional 

occupation and use recorded within coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps include painted rock art, 

burials, stone and earth arrangements, pathways, 

scarred trees, middens, stone artefacts and scatters, 

grinding grooves, food and fi bre resources and historic 

contact sites. Some coastal and sub-coastal tree 

swamps have particular signifi cance as story places 

and as sites for cultural activities. 

MATERIAL evidence of cultural sites, 

such as stone artefacts and shells, are 

often concentrated along ecotones 

around the margins of coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps in association 

with neighbouring wetlands such as 

coastal and sub-coastal wet heath 

swamps, grass, sedge, herb swamps 

and saltmarsh wetlands.

 The most commonly recorded sites associated 

with coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps are shell 

middens and stone artefact scatters associated with 

open camp occupation sites. These sites are likely 

to be found in areas of higher ground within or 

adjacent to coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps. 

Material evidence of cultural sites, such as stone 

artefacts and shells, are often concentrated along 

ecotones around the margins of coastal and sub-

coastal tree swamps, and in association with 

neighbouring regional ecosystems such as coastal 

and sub-coastal wet heath swamps, coastal and sub-

coastal grass, sedge, herb swamps and saltmarsh 

wetlands. The clustering of sites along ecotones 

refl ects the concentration of traditional occupation 

and use within areas of greatest biodiversity.

Traditional use of coastal and sub-coastal tree 

swamp vegetation  Photo: Thomas Dick, 

© Queensland Museum


Some coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps also have 

non-Indigenous (historic) cultural heritage signifi cance, 

although most have not been surveyed or assessed for 

historic heritage values. DERM has records of more 

than 60 historic sites associated with coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps. The historic heritage values of 

coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps demonstrate 

evidence of their past occupation and use associated 

with the pastoral, agricultural, timber and forestry 

industries and coastal and sub-coastal defence. Sites 

include camps, settlements, roads, tramways, 

stockyards, sawmills, log dumps, blazed trees and relics 

of maritime transport and communications and coastal 

and sub-coastal defence installations. It is important to 

note that evidence of Aboriginal occupation is often 

encountered at historic sites.

Refer to the Coastal and sub-coastal fringe wetlands—

cultural heritage profi le  for 

more information on identifying, assessing and 

managing cultural heritage values associated with 

coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps. 

Ecological values

 Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps play a critical role 

in the hydrological regime of the coastal and sub-coastal 

area: they provide a protective buffer against erosion; 

they absorb and fi lter water before it enters other 

wetland ecosystems such as mangrove swamps, 

estuaries and eventually the sea and off-shore reefs; they 

also retain fl ood waters and act as nutrient sinks. Tree 

swamp species such as Eucalyptus camaldulensis access 

and transpire substantial volumes of groundwater and 

can contribute to maintaining watertables at depth, 

which can reduce the risk some types of salinity (Dalton, 

1990). Before European settlement, coastal and sub-

coastal tree swamps were more extensive, providing 

wide buffer zones between shorelines, estuaries and 

river systems, protecting these waterways from channel 

erosion and nutrient run-off. Clearing for agricultural 

development such as timber plantations and sugar cane 

production and more recently for industrial and urban 

development has removed these protective buffer zones 

(Greenway, 1998). 

COASTAL and sub-coastal tree swamps 

are dynamic and the timing of fi re and 

extreme wet and dry events is likely to 

play a key role in these dynamics.

 Coastal and sub-coastal tree swamps are dynamic and 

the timing of fi re and extreme wet and dry events is 

likely to play a key role in these dynamics. The coastal 

and sub-coastal tree swamps can expand onto alluvial 

fl oodplains if levee banks retain water in these areas 

for long periods, or they can contract where fi res 

repeatedly enter from adjacent lands such as cane 

fi elds, pasture paddocks or weedy urban fringes. 

Monitoring in the Cooloola area of south-east 

Queensland over the past 40 years shows coastal and 

sub-coastal tree swamps and forests appearing and 

disappearing through time, to be replaced by or to 

replace wet heaths, grass, sedge and herb swamps.

The location and botanical characteristics of coastal 

and sub-coastal tree swamps in Queensland make 

them important habitat for a range of bird species. 

Abundant food and nest resources, high water 

availability and a favourable microclimate are all 

factors that contribute to this richness. A coastal tree 

swamp, when not in fl ower, can be relatively silent 

but within a day of a widespread fl owering event 

becomes one of the noisiest places in the Australian 

bush. During the day, birds fl ock to the nectar-rich 

fl owers, to be replaced at night by the fl apping, 

crashing and squabbling of fl ying foxes competing for 

the same resource. 

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