Lakes in Central Australia

If one looks at a map of Central Australia lakes appear to abound. Despite the great size of some lakes, and their apparent abundance, most rarely contain water except for brief periods after intense rainfall. Thus, lakes in Central Australia only provide a very minor and irregular habitat for fish. Two exceptions to this are Woods Lake in the Wiso system, and the Coongie Lakes system in the Cooper Creek system which are a series of interconnected lakes that rarely dry out (Reid & Puckridge 1990). These lakes are generally shallow. Little data exists for Woods Lake. Coongie Lakes are rarely over 2m deep (Reid & Puckridge 1990). When full, lakes such as Lake Eyre and Frome contain massive, although short lived fish populations that die off as salinity levels rise following evaporation (Ruello 1976). Most lakes in Central Australia probably don't contain fish, even when full, as there are many drainages which are lacking resident fish populations.

Lake Eyre

image 19KK jpeg Peter Unmack photo.

Lake Eyre is the eighteenth largest lake in the world (Krieg 1989). It has a total area of 9,000km˛ (3,240mi˛). Lake Eyre was much larger around 125,000 - 90,000 years ago when the lake was up to 25 m deep (basically it was full up to where the 10m contour interval exists today) (Magee et. al. 1995). During the record 1974 floods the lake peaked at an estimated 32.5 million megalitres or 26 million acre feet. Even after some minor inflows in the intervening years it was virtually dry again by 1979-80 (Bye & Will 1989). While the lake is rarely completely dry, it probably doesn't contain resident fish populations due to excessive salinity.

image 19KK jpeg Coongie Lake, Cooper system, Innamincka, South Australia. Jean Unmack photo.

Coongie Lakes only dry on average of seven years. Species recorded from the lake include Australian smelt, bony bream, silver tandan, desert rainbowfish, Lake Eyre yellowbelly, spangled perch, western carp gudgeon, dambusia, and goldfish.


Bye, J. A. T. & Will, G. D. 1989. The hydrology of the filling. In, The Great Filling of Lake Eyre in 1974. Eds. Bonython, C. W. & Fraser, A. S. Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, Adelaide. pp 32-43.

Krieg, G. W. 1989. Geology. In, Natural History of Dalhousie Springs. Eds. Zeidler, W. & Ponder, W. F. South Australian Museum, Adelaide. pp 19-26.

Magee, J. W., Bowler, J. M., Miller, G. H., & Williams, D. L. G. 1995. Stratigraphy, sedimentology, chronology and palaeohydrology of Quaternary lacustrine deposits at Madigan Gulf, Lake Eyre, South Australia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 113: 3-42.

Reid, J. R. W. & Puckridge, J. T. 1990. Coongie Lakes. In, Natural History of the North-East Deserts. Eds. Tyler, M. J., Twidale, C. R., Davies, M., & Wells, C. B. Royal Society of South Australia, Adelaide. pp 119-131.

Ruello, N. V. 1976. Observations on some fish kills in Lake Eyre. Australian Journal of Freshwater and Marine Research. 27: 667-672.

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The Australian desert fishes pages are compiled and maintained by Peter J. Unmack
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This file was last modified:  18 March 2003