Moreton Bay IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

4,229 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Dugong – Dugong dugon

Criterion A; B (2); C (1; 2)

Australian humpback dolphin – Sousa sahulensis

Criterion A; B (1); D (1)

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops aduncus

Criterion B (1)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Megaptera novaeangliae, Tursiops truncatus, Eubalaena australis, Delphinus delphis, Arctocephalus forsteri, Balaenoptera edeni, Balaenoptera acutorostrata


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Moreton Bay in southern Queensland is a large shallow embayment (~1,500 km2) flanked by four large sand islands: North Stradbroke and Moreton Islands to the east, Bribie Island to the north, and South Stradbroke Island to the south. This area features the southernmost resident populations of dugongs and Australian humpback dolphins on the east coast, a substantial number of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and a narrow humpback whale migratory corridor along its seaward boundary. Humpback whales also often enter northern Moreton Bay as they return south, and the area is visited occasionally by New Zealand fur seals and southern right whales. Other species that are regularly sighted in shelf waters east of the sand islands include common bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, Bryde’s whales and dwarf minke whales. Most of the IMMA is within the Moreton Bay Marine Park, which has zones that restrict commercial and recreational fishing, and Go-Slow areas to limit vessel speed in dugong foraging habitat.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

Threatened species that are resident in the IMMA include substantial populations of Australian humpback dolphins and dugongs, which are both listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (Parra et al., 2017, Marsh and Sobtzick, 2019) and under the State of Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act 1992.

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations 

The population size of Australian humpback dolphins in Moreton Bay was estimated to be between 119 and 163 from 1984 to 1987 (95% CI: 81−251; Corkeron et al., 1997), and more recently between 128 and 139 from 2014 to 2016 (95% CI: 67−274, J. J. Meager & E. R. Hawkins, unpubl. data). A recent study demonstrated long-term site fidelity and consistent habitat use in Moreton Bay from 1992 to 2016 (Meager et al., 2018). The social structure of humpback dolphins in Moreton Bay is highly fragmented with five separate communities and limited spatial overlap (Hawkins et al., 2019). There are approximately 550 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay in two genetically distinct sub-populations: the first in the northern Bay and the second in the southern Bay (Ansmann et al., 2012). The smaller southern subpopulation is estimated to be ~200 dolphins (Ansmann et al., 2013). Very high densities of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins have been recorded adjacent to the rocky headlands of North Stradbroke Island (Chilvers and Corkeron, 2003), which is also within the IMMA.

Sub-criterion B2: Aggregations

The dugong population in Moreton Bay displays distinct aggregating behaviour that has been associated with feeding (Preen, 1995, Hodgson, 2004). The eastern seagrass banks in Moreton Bay are the only known location in the dugong’s range where a very high proportion of dugongs recorded during aerial surveys is consistently in large herds of up to several hundred animals (Preen, 1995, Hodgson, 2004, Sobtzick et al., 2017).

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

The three resident species of marine mammals reproduce in the IMMA, as evidenced by observations of mating behaviour and neonates. Since 2000, the proportion of dugongs classified as calves in Moreton Bay during aerial surveys has been around 10%, varying much less than the other areas on the east coast of Queensland and indicating that Moreton Bay is a consistently important area for dugong reproduction (Sobtzick et al., 2017) .

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

Moreton Bay provides important foraging habitat for dugongs, and the locations of key foraging habitat for dugongs and humpback dolphins in Moreton Bay are well understood (e.g. Sobtzick et al., 2017, Meager et al., 2018). Moreton Bay supports extensive seagrass pastures for dugongs (Lyons et al., 2011).

Criterion D: Special Attributes

Sub-criterion D1: Distinctiveness

The humpback dolphins in Moreton Bay represent a putative population with limited gene flow to the nearest population in the Great Sandy Strait (Parra et al., 2018), and the social structure of the local population is highly fragmented with five separate communities and limited spatial overlap (Hawkins et al., 2019).

Supporting Information

Ansmann, I. C., Lanyon, J. M., Seddon, J. M. & Parra, G. J. 2013. Monitoring dolphins in an urban marine system: total and effective population size estimates of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay, Australia. PLoS One, 8, e65239.

Ansmann, I. C., Parra, G. J., Lanyon, J. M. & Seddon, J. M. 2012. Fine-scale genetic population structure in a mobile marine mammal: inshore bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay, Australia. Molecular Ecology, 21, 4472-4485.

Chilvers, B. L. & Corkeron, P. J. 2003. Abundance of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncus, off Point Lookout, Queensland, Australia. Marine Mammal Science, 19, 85-95.

Corkeron, P. J., Morissette, L., Porter, H. & Marsh, H. 1997. Distribution and status of humpback dolphins, Sousa chinesis in Australian waters. Asian Marine Biology, 14, 49-59.

Fuentes, M. M. P. B., Delean, S., Grayson, J., Lavender, S., Logan, M. & Marsh, H. 2016. Spatial and temporal variation in the effects of climatic variables on dugong calf production. PLoS ONE, 11, e0155675.

Hagihara, R., Jones, R. E., Sobtzick, S., Cleguer, C., Garrigue, C. & Marsh, H. 2018. Compensating for geographic variation in detection probability with water depth improves abundance estimates of coastal marine megafauna. PLOS ONE, 13, e0191476.

Hawkins, E. R., Pogson‐Manning, L., Jaehnichen, C. & Meager, J. J. 2019. Social dynamics and sexual segregation of Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis) in Moreton Bay, Queensland. Marine Mammal Science.

Hodgson, A. J. 2004. Dugong behaviour and responses to human influences. PhD, James Cook University.

Lanyon , J., Noad, M. & Meager, J. 2019. Ecology of the marine mammals of Moreton Bay. In: TIBBETTS, I. R., P.C., R., NEIL, D. T., HOMBURG, T. A., BREWER, D. T. & A.H., A. (eds.) Moreton Bay Quandamooka & Catchment: Past, present, and future. Brisbane: The Moreton Bay Foundation.

Lyons, M., Phinn, S. & Roelfsema, C. 2011. Integrating Quickbird multi-spectral satellite and field data: mapping bathymetry, seagrass cover, seagrass species and change in Moreton Bay, Australia in 2004 and 2007. Remote Sensing, 3, 42-64.

Marsh, H. & Sobtzick, S. 2019. Dugong dugon (amended version of 2015 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T6909A160756767 [Online]. Available: [Accessed Downloaded on 24 June 2020].

Meager, J. J. & Hawkins, E. 2017. Moreton Bay Dolphin Project: long-term monitoring of iconic tropical dolphins at a key index site. Final report to the Department of the Environmental and Energy. James Cook University, Townsville.

Meager, J. J., Hawkins, E. R., Ansmann, I. & Parra, G. J. 2018. Long-term trends in habitat use and site fidelity by Australian humpback dolphins Sousa sahulensis in a near-urban embayment. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 603, 227-242.

Meager, J. J. & Limpus, C. 2014. Mortality of inshore marine mammals in eastern Australia is predicted by freshwater discharge and air temperature. PloS One, 9, e94849.

Meager, J. J., Limpus, C. J. & Sumpton, W. 2013. A review of the population dynamics of dugongs in southern Queensland: 1830-2012. Brisbane: Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland Government.

Noad, M. J., Dunlop, R. A., Bennett, L. & Kniest, H. 2016. Abundance estimates of the east Australian humpback whale population (BSE1): 2015 survey update. Progress report to the International Whaling Commission, SC/66b/SH/21, 1:10.

Noad, M. J., Dunlop, R. A., Paton, D. & Cato, D. H. 2008. An update of the east Australian humpback whale population (F1) rate of increase. SC/60/SH31, 13.

Noad, M. J., Kniest, E. & Dunlop, R. A. 2019. Boom to bust? Implications for the continued rapid growth of the eastern Australian humpback whale population despite recovery. Population Ecology, 0.

Parra, G., Cagnazzi, D., Perrin, W. & Braulik, G. T. 2017. Sousa sahulensis: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T82031667A82031671 [Online]. Available: [Accessed 31/01/18].

Parra, G. J., Cagnazzi, D., Jedensjö, M., Ackermann, C., Frere, C., Seddon, J., Nikolic, N. & Krützen, M. 2018. Low genetic diversity, limited gene flow and widespread genetic bottleneck effects in a threatened dolphin species, the Australian humpback dolphin. Biological Conservation, 220, 192-200.

Paterson, R., Paterson, P. & Cato, D. H. 1994. The status of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in east Australia thirty years after whaling. Biological Conservation, 70, 135-142.

Preen, A. 1995. Impacts of dugong foraging on seagrass habitats: observational and experimental evidence for cultivation grazing. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 124, 201-213.

Preen, A. & Marsh, H. 1995. Response of dugongs to large-scale loss of seagrass from Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Wildlife Research, 22, 507-519.

Seddon, J. M., Ovenden, J. R., Sneath, H. L., Broderick, D., Dudgeon, C. L. & Lanyon, J. M. 2014. Fine scale population structure of dugongs (Dugong dugon) implies low gene flow along the southern Queensland coastline. Conservation Genetics, 1-12.

Sobtzick, S., Cleguer, C., Hagihara, R. & Marsh, H. 2017. Distribution and abundance of dugong and large marine turtles in Moreton Bay, Hervey Bay and the southern Great Barrier Reef. A report to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Tibbetts, I. R. & Connolly, R. M. 1998. The Nekton of Moreton Bay. In: TIBBETTS, I. R., HALL, N. J. & DENNISON, W. C. (eds.) Moreton Bay and Catchment. Brisbane: School of Marine Science, The University of Queensland.

Welsby, T. & Thomson, A. K. 1967. The collected works of Thomas Welsby, Brisbane, Jacaranda.

Zeh, D. R., Heupel, M. R., Hamann, M., Jones, R., Limpus, C. J. & Marsh, H. 2018. Evidence of behavioural thermoregulation by dugongs at the high latitude limit to their range in eastern Australia. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 508, 27-34.

Zeh, D. R., Heupel, M. R., Hamann, M., Limpus, C. J. & Marsh, H. 2016. Quick Fix GPS technology highlights risk to dugongs moving between protected areas. Endangered Species Research, 30, 37-44.


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