Kimberley Rivers & Streams | WWF

Kimberley Rivers & Streams

Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), Adelaide River, Northern Territory, Australia.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

About the Area

The Kimberley is a distinctive ancient island, with quite different types of rivers to the Northern Territory and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Characterised by a rugged landscape with intermittent streams and ephemeral swamps, this ecoregion exhibits a highly endemic freshwater fauna. Perennial and intermittent rivers in the Kimberley provide habitat to a variety of fish, crustacean, aquatic reptiles and invertebrates.

For example, of the 50 odd fish species found here, about 12 are endemic. Two important areas for freshwater biodiversity are found within the protected areas of Drysdale River National Park and the Prince Regent Nature Reserve.

Kimberley is the only region in Australia where the highly evolved and dispersed freshwater crayfish do not occur, apparently replaced by giant freshwater shrimps. Macrobrachium river prawns and Caridina shrimps, both of which are common across northern Australia, are present in the Kimberley.

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287,000 sq. km (115,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:

Small Rivers

Geographic Location:
Northwestern Australia

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact
Local Species
The endemic fish families include the Gudgeons (Eleotridae), Grunters (Terapontidae), Hardyheads (Atherinidae), and Rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae).

Endemic fish in the Eleotridae family include Slender gudgeon (Hypseleotris ejuncida), Barnett River gudgeon (Hypseleotris kimberleyensis), and the only two members of the endemic genus Kimberleyeleotris - Mitchell gudgeon (K. hutchinsi) and Drysdale gudgeon (K. notata).

Freshwater fish include several species of venomous Eel-tail catfishes (Tandanus spp.), Kimberley grunter (Syncomistes kimberleyensis), Greenway's grunter (Hannia greenwayi), and Pygmy rainbowfish (Melanotaenia pygmaea).

In addition to a number of aquatic snakes, such as Liasis fuscus, freshwaters in this ecoregion also support populations of several aquatic lizards, including Mitchell's and Mertens' water monitors (Varanus mitchelli, V. mertinsi).

Turtles found here include the Northern snake-necked turtle (Chelodina rugosa), Northern snapping turtle (Elseya dentata), and Victoria short-necked turtle (Emydura victoriae). Both freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) and saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) occur here as well.

Featured species

Pygmy rainbowfish (Melanotaenia pygmaea)

Its size is about 5.5 cm in males and 3.5 cm in females. It occurs in fast flowing streams interrupted by frequent cascades or rapids. Usually inhabits the deeper pools, often at the base of waterfalls with very clear water and a primarily solid rock bottom with little or no vegetative cover. Inhabits pools and rivulets on sandstone terraces.

It is generally seen in schools containing up to 50 or more individuals. Both sexes can become sexually mature at 2.3 cm. It is a popular aquarium species that thrives in captivity.

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There is one large dam on the Ord River, but most waterways still retain their natural patterns of flow. Main threats to the ecoregion come from overgrazing, mining, tourism, and introduced species.
WWF’s work
The Kimberley Region in north-western Australia is known throughout the world for its spectacular river systems and coastal wetlands. The rivers, wetlands and groundwater systems in the Kimberley also have important social and economic values, supporting local industries such as barramundi fisheries, tourism and aquaculture.

WWF-Australia's Kimberley Wetlands Project
WWF-Australia is committed to sustaining the unique biodiversity of this extraordinary region through partnerships with the local community.
In the Kimberley, Aboriginal people comprise close to 50% of the population, and Native Title rights and interests cover the majority of its land and sea areas. Traditional knowledge and skills are thus an essential component of sustainable land management, and we actively encourage dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous natural resource managers to help plan for healthy Kimberley country.

We are also working with government agencies, research organisations and other non-government organisations to protect the values that make this rich and inspiring Kimberley country so unique.

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