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Darwin mangroves on the frontline

By Angus Smith

CDU Honours student Madeline Goddard says her research will help determine how Darwin Harbour mangroves respond to sea-level rise CDU Honours student Madeline Goddard says her research will help determine how Darwin Harbour mangroves respond to sea-level rise

A Charles Darwin University Honours student has presented her research at the 2nd annual Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Conference at the University of Wollongong.

The theme of the three-day conference was “Working with Mangroves and Saltmarsh for Sustainable Outcomes”, which brought together more than 80 researchers, land managers and consultants who work in coastal wetlands in Australia and internationally.

Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL) Honours student, Madeline Goddard updated the conference about her research, which explored surface elevation changes and associated carbon burial in the mangroves of Darwin Harbour.

Ms Goddard said the research would help determine the response of the Darwin Harbour mangroves to rising sea levels. 

“Darwin is an interesting place to study mangroves, which are exposed to eight-metre tides and an average 1727.2mm of rain during the wet season,” Ms Goddard said. “They are also experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world.” 

She said that determining the current and historical rates of vertical elevation change was critical to understanding the response of the mangrove forest.

“Mangroves are on the frontline of sea-level rise,” she said. “For the past 6000 years they have kept pace with sea level rise of a few millimetres per year. Mangroves do so by building land via the gradual build-up of organic and inorganic matter that forms the marsh-like conditions for which they famously form some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet.

“The question for many researchers now is will our vital coastal wetlands ‘sink’ as the sea level rises or will they be able to ‘swim’ and build land in pace with the rise?” 

The conference also highlighted the role mangroves played in providing crucial habitat for many marine species and for providing protection from coastal erosions and storm surges. 

“There were many wonderful stories relating to mangrove and saltmarsh restoration, successfully returning degraded coastal areas to the fish nurseries, migratory bird foraging habitat, sediment traps and carbon sinks,” Ms Goddard said.

For more information about Ms Goddard's presentation at the conference, view her blog post on the RIEL website, "“Sink or swim?” Reflections from the Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network Conference": riel.cdu.edu.au/blog/2015/03/%E2%80%9Csink-or-swim%E2%80%9D-reflections-australian-mangrove-and-saltmarsh-network-conference