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Vital habitat research wins at 3MT

By Leanne Coleman

Muditha has developed a method that will enable researchers around the world to conserve mangroves Muditha has developed a method that will enable researchers around the world to conserve mangroves

A PhD candidate whose research is addressing one of the most important and threatened habitats in the world has won the 2014 Three Minute Thesis competition at Charles Darwin University.

Muditha Kumari Heenkenda has developed a method that will enable researchers around the world to map individual species and visualise the health of mangrove forests.

“Mangroves are not only important for sustaining biodiversity by providing habitat and nursery grounds for animals, they protect the shore line, coral reefs, sea grass beds from powerful waves including cyclones,” Muditha said.

“Unfortunately, mangroves are one of the most threatened habitats in the world. Urban and industrial development in estuarine areas impact mangrove communities through land clearing, agriculture, dredging and waterfront developments.”

Muditha said that due to on-going development in and around Darwin Harbour and its catchment area, mapping and monitoring mangrove ecosystem was vital, but presented difficulties.

“It is impossible to frequently go to mangrove forests to identify species, their locations, and heights over large areas. It is time-consuming and expensive with extensive field sampling impossible due to safety reasons, particularly in the NT,” she said.

As part of her research Muditha has created the first detailed individual tree level species map of the Rapid Creek mangrove forest in Darwin using remote sensing and field calibration data.

“I developed a method to identify individual mangrove species using satellite images,” she said. “I also developed a method to identify stressed and healthy mangroves using satellite images. For the first time, we are able to visualise the health of our local mangroves based on leaf chlorophyll and biomass.

“This method can now be used in many other similar areas around the world to help to ensure effective mangrove conservation and sustainable development.”

Muditha’s thesis is entitled “A transition from traditional mangrove remote sensing to recent advances: Mapping and monitoring”. Part of her work was published recently in the academic journal “remote sensing”. To read the article visit W: mdpi.com/2072-4292/6/7/6064

She was awarded $1500 prize-money and will represent the Northern Territory at the Trans-Tasman competition at the University of Western Australia today, November 3. Muditha also took home the People’s Choice Award and a further $500.

CDU pharmacy practice lecturer and PhD candidate Mary Madden was runner-up for her PhD entitled “Expiry of Medicines in Tropical Climates” and received $500.