Mangroves: a vital ecosystem in need
THEY MAY NOT LOOK like (or smell) like much, but mangroves are a veritable treasure trove of species and an extremely important ecosystem.
About 75 per cent of commercial fish species hang out here for at least part of their lifecycle, rubbing shoulders with wide array of creatures from crabs and mudskippers to birds and rodents.
These intertidal forests also prevent erosion by stabilising sediment with their ‘breathing’ roots, and they also filter run-off from the land to keep the water clear for their more glamorous counterparts, such as coral reefs. They cover 11,500 sq. km of Australian coastline – the third largest area in the world – and are found almost everywhere but Tasmania.
But Australia is losing its valuable mangroves to coastal development and rising sea levels, and keeping an eye on the health of all those that remain is no easy task. That’s why researchers from the University of Queensland are getting the public in on the act.
The MangroveWatch project trains local people from sailing enthusiasts to farmers to video the shoreline and estuarine mangroves from boats. Back in the lab, the videos are analysed by researchers and volunteer students to establish a baseline of mangrove health. Repeating the process means changes in health – due to climate change or pollution, for example – can be tracked over time.
Jock Mackenzie, a PhD student and coordinator of MangroveWatch says it’s the perfect ‘citizen science’ project because people can learn about mangroves but they don’t need to develop specialised skills. “People don’t get frustrated in the way that they might if they had to make objective judgements about the health of the mangroves,” he says.
After a successful pilot in South-East Queensland’s Burnett-Mary region, MangroveWatch is looking for funding to roll out the scheme across Australia. And other countries are interested too: the WorldFish Centre is working with the University of Queensland to establish a MangroveWatch program in the Solomon Islands in January.
Anyone interested in getting involved in or setting up MangroveWatch in their area can visit www.mangrovewatch.org.au for more information.