The Lake Eyre Basin is one of the largest internally draining river systems in the world and includes parts of south-western Queensland, north-eastern South Australia, south-western Northern Territory and far western New South Wales. Much of the area covered by the Basin is arid or semi-arid in nature. The major cross-border river systems within the Basin — the Cooper Creek and Georgina-Diamantina — are recognised as being some of the last remaining unregulated inland river systems in Australia.
Parts of the Lake Eyre Basin have been recognised as being of World heritage value (Natural Heritage Values of the Lake Eyre Basin in South Australia — World Heritage Assessment, CSIRO, September 1995).
The 1995 CSIRO study found that Lake Eyre and the Ramsar listed Coongie Lakes were unique in that they were fed from an arid and semi-arid catchment and were highly variable in flow pattern and created a wide array of ecological conditions which support a rich and abundant aquatic fauna. The surface aquatic systems were considered to have met at least three of the Criteria for World Heritage properties.
These values are found in the Surface Aquatic Systems comprising the Cooper and Warburton Creek drainage system, Coongie Lakes, Goyder Lagoon, and Lake Eyre North and South. These values are highly dependent on the frequency, magnitude and duration of flow events in these river systems, which are naturally highly variable. CSIRO also found that these ecosystems depend to a large extent on the flows from upstream catchments in Queensland.
The Coongie Lakes area on the Coopers Creek river system has been listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Coongie Lakes and adjacent areas, and the Cooper Creek floodplain are also listed on the Register of the National Estate.
State and Territory Governments have primary responsibility for ensuring that Ramsar sites are appropriately managed. The Commonwealth Government as a contracting party to the Treaty, has overall responsibility for ensuring no action is taken, either within the listed area, or in association with it, that may alter the special ecological values which qualified the site as being of international importance.
The Coongie Lakes system also supports one of the most significant fish communities in South Australia and the richest frog community known in central Australia. It contains the most diverse aquatic invertebrate and plant communities in the North East region; 350 species of plants have been recorded, three of which are threatened.
Major floods in the region have been shown to promote periods of flourishing plant growth and an influx of wildlife to the Coopers Creek and Coongie Lakes area.
The Lake Eyre Basin also supports a range of indigenous and non-indigenous cultural heritage values which warrant appropriate recognition and protection.