An extra 600,000 megalitres of water needs to be returned to the Murray River to avert an environmental disaster in its lower reaches, a scientific review has found.

It's the first time a target has been identified to provide for the long-term health of the river's lower lakes and internationally significant Coorong wetlands. The review's key recommendation is for a median target of 3,800 gigalitres a year - about 600,000 megalitres more than at present - to be measured at the tidal barrages built 60 years ago near the river mouth.

This figure represents at least a third of the Murray's natural flow at its lower reaches.

The scientists also recommend shelving proposed engineering solutions to the crisis: building a weir to separate the Murray from the lower lakes, allowing the lakes to fill with seawater and building a channel between the Coorong and Lake Albert.

Professor Richard Kingsford from the University of NSW, who led the team, says: "History is unfortunately finally catching up and we are seeing one of Australia's iconic wetlands moving rapidly towards a state of ecological collapse as a result of building dams and over-allocating this river."

The report, Engineering a crisis in a Ramsar wetland: the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Australia, is critical of the long-term management of the wetlands. It was prepared as an independent assessment of the best available scientific evidence.

The team of six scientists from the UNSW Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre, the University of Adelaide and Flinders University includes leading researchers on the river and its ecology and the report was reviewed in draft stage by other experts in the field.

Read the full story at the Faculty of Science newsroom.

Media contacts: Professor Richard Kingsford | 0419 634 215Bob Beale, UNSW Faculty of Science | 0411 705 435