Both chemical and stable isotope data provide important supplemental information to more traditional hydraulic data and unravel the processes that underpin the large variations in chemical and stable isotopic composition within a coastal wetland system. The system studied was the Lake Warden wetlands, located in Esperance, in south coast of Western Australia. The spatial and temporal variations of chemical and isotopic composition of the individual water bodies within the system were measured for an annual cycle. In broad terms, the groundwater levels appear to follow the topography but the distinct higher chloride and isotopic concentrations observed within the wetlands were not reflected in the low lying coastal plain groundwater. The hydraulic analysis of the region surrounding the wetlands suggest that the wetlands are flow-through bodies, however the chemical and isotope information indicates the lakes almost invariably act as discharge points for the surface water flows and the north-south groundwater flow. The northeast-southwest groundwater flow is along an observed paleochannel within the wetlands system and in this case the chemical and isotopic evidence are complimentary with the hydraulic study. The study highlighted the importance of correcting the isotopic values for the salt effect in highly saline water. The isotopic activity ratios of delta(2)H (delta(2)H(a)) of some samples were up to 15%(0) higher than the uncorrected values: The high salinity of the terminal lake in the wetlands chain also required implementation of a theoretical evaporative model to explain the lower enrichment of the isotopic results as compared to expectations for a shallow and ephemeral lake. The inter-lake variation in the theoretical evaporative model parameters, coupled with a significant variation in the hydrochemistry and isotope composition suggests that the lakes within the wetlands system cannot be treated as single water body as is implied by the bathymetry survey. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.