Dr Norman Duke, leader of JCU’s Mangrove Research hub, headed an investigation into the massive mangrove dieback. The findings were published in the Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research today (Tuesday 14 March)
The scientists used aerial observations and satellite mapping data of the area dating back to 1972, combined with weather and climate records.
Dr Duke said they found three factors came together to produce the unprecedented dieback of 7400 hectares of mangroves, which stretched for 1000 kilometres along the Gulf coast.
“From 2011 the coastline had experienced below-average rainfalls, and the 2015/16 drought was particularly severe. Secondly the temperatures in the area were at record levels and thirdly some mangroves were left high and dry as the sea level dropped about 20cm during a particularly strong El Nino.”
Dr Duke says this was enough to produce what scientists regard as the largest recorded incident of its kind, and the worst instance of likely climate-related dieback of mangroves ever reported.
“Essentially, they died of thirst,” he said.
Dr Duke said scientists now know that mangroves, like coral reefs, are vulnerable to changes in climate and extreme weather events.
He said the mangroves of Australia’s Gulf region have experienced relatively little anthropogenic impact and are considered the least altered mangrove ecosystems in the world.
“So the relative dominance of climate influences in this region is of critical interest to world observers of environmental responses to climate change.”
Dr Duke said the area is sparsely populated, with passing fisherman and scientists conducting unrelated work the first to notice the dieback.
“It took 4-5 months to come to the attention of mangrove tidal wetland specialists and managers. Our response to this event further involves training and equipping Indigenous rangers and local community volunteers to build local partnerships for rigorous and repeated shoreline assessments.”
“We cannot afford to be caught out like this again!” said Dr Duke. “The Gulf dieback has been a wakeup call for action on shoreline monitoring. We urgently need a national shoreline monitoring program commensurate with our global standing. We have the specialists, we have the resources, and we know there is interest and concern amongst the Australian public.”
To progress this further, Australia’s top specialists and managers will review the situation at a dedicated workshop during next week’s Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network annual conference in Hobart (http://www.utas.edu.au/land-food/geography-and-spatial-sciences/amsn-conference-2017), hosted by the University of Tasmania and CSIRO.
“The aim of Australia’s specialist network is to apply intelligent, innovative and considered responses, as fully expected by the public, to improve and disseminate informed understandings of the changes taking place in high value natural resources such as Australia’s coastal tidal wetland habitats,” Dr Duke said.
Dr Norm Duke
M: 0419 673 366
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The Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research paper is available on request from Dr Duke.
TropWATER has recently produced a guide to stream invertebrates that is freely available for download from the web. It is based on a study of Wet Tropics streams, but should be usable with all perennial coastal streams in tropical Queensland. It will be useful for community groups, schools and environmental consultants. It is available at:
About 40 people gathered at JCU in mid-February to participate in ‘Animals in Motion’, a 2-day symposium about wildlife telemetry research and collaboration, supported jointly by TropWATER, CTBCC and CSTFA.
Presenters outlined their work with diverse terrestrial and marine species, including crocodiles, cassowaries, sharks, racoons, northern bettongs, flying foxes, reef fish, geckos, tube-nosed bats, mantas and marine turtles. Their purposes in studying animal movement were also very diverse, from reducing human-wildlife conflict to understanding the risks of epidemic disease transmission.
New perspectives on different tracking methods were introduced, illustrated by hard-won experience in challenging research situations, and elaborated during a comprehensive panel discussion. A hands-on workshop on analysing and visualising movement data was a highlight for R-users.
Speakers also addressed the need for collaboration in tracking studies and shared successful strategies for starting collaborative projects with diverse stakeholders. Members of the audience contributed additional insights during a wide-ranging discussion about collaboration challenges.
For additional pictures from the symposium see: https://twitter.com/JCU_AniMotion
To join the ‘Animals in Motion’ mailing list for notification about proposed follow-up workshops please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In November 2016, TropWATER’s Dr Nathan Waltham and Jason Schaffer, joined a research team from CSIRO (Project Lead), and Queensland Government, to examine the extent of damage created by feral animals to aquatic ecosystems, and methods to best control them. This project is funded through National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub.
Dr Waltham said that “Our project study area is the Archer River catchment, Cape York, though the consequences of feral animal impact on tropical wetlands is a problem across northern Australia.” “Already the first two rounds of field work have been completed, and we are currently analysing the data”.
The project team also includes Indigenous land and sea rangers, and the local community. “Working with the community and rangers, we have been able to transfer knowledge about the landscape”.
“Understanding more about the indigenous history of the region, has allowed me to more fully appreciate the value of wetlands in the area, but also how pigs and other feral animals have interfered in these values”, said Dr Waltham.
For more information, contact Dr Nathan Waltham (Nathan.email@example.com)
TropWATER’s Dr Ian McLeod joined restoration experts from The Nature Conservancy on a tour of US coastal restoration sites in December 2016. The team visited restoration projects in Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey and Virginia and met with scientists, Government workers and practitioners to share knowledge and discuss collaborative opportunities.
Highlights included learning about the logistics of a US$100,000,000 oyster restoration project in Harris Creek (Chesapeake Bay), seeing the effectiveness of oyster reef restoration for shoreline protection and attending the Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) Summit in New Orleans. Dr McLeod and the team also met with the President and Board of Restore America’s Estuaries to discuss greater collaboration between the US and Australia.
“It was really inspirational to see that large-scale restoration of important coastal habitats such as saltmarshes, seagrasses and shellfish is possible. Coastal restoration is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US and much of the inspiration for this restoration is coastal protection and job creation for coastal communities", said Dr McLeod.
"I've come back with my mind buzzing with new ideas about how to answer important research questions to empower the scaling-up of coastal restoration in Australia", said Dr McLeod.
Funding for the trip was provided through a James Cook University Rising Stars Award. Dr McLeod is the Principal Investigator of a National Environmental Science Programme-funded coastal restoration project led in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Australia. Read more about the project here.