Demonstrating the extent of wetland loss and its causes are essential for policy makers and managers. We used Landsat satellite imagery to show major wetland loss in the Lower Murrumbidgee floodplain on the Murrumbidgee River in arid Australia. Stratification of the floodplain according to hydrology, use of imagery from the same time of year and the separation of developed areas, using ancillary information were essential. There was considerable loss of floodplain area over a 23 year period (1975-1998), mainly in the Nimmie-Caira stratum (59% loss), as wetland areas were replaced by irrigation bays. There was also a significant increase in fragmentation. For floodplain areas distant from the river, flooding patterns were more difficult to identify because of infrequent flooding and primary reliance on rainfall. Landsat imagery provided a powerful tool for demonstrating long-term changes in wetland area, even in highly variable environments. Such information can demonstrate the ecological costs of water resource development on floodplains, forming a basis for policy and management of rivers.

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