Project 2.2. 'Mangrove and freshwater habitat status of Torres Strait islands'

Project 2.2. 'Mangrove and freshwater habitat status of Torres Strait islands'

Torres Strait islands have extensive mangrove margins and several islands (e.g. Saibai, Boigu) are predominantly made up of intertidal swamps (including mangroves, tidal saltpans and salt marsh).  Despite this, there has been no thorough assessment of the diversity, extent and health of mangrove ecosystems there.  Establishing the baseline of mangrove status and condition is important, especially as many islands are low lying and the predictions of sea level rise and increased storm surge frequency mean that mangroves are among the most threatened ecological communities in Torres Strait.  They are also a shoreline community that plays a vital role in mitigating the effects of oceanic intrusion, depending on its resilience and capacity to adapt.  Mangroves buffer coastlines against waves and provide erosion protection. It is thus important that these ecosystems remain intact and to understand the role these habitats play in providing such protective and beneficial services.

Implicit in this project, is that Torres Strait islanders have a long and intimate knowledge of mangrove habitats, reflected in their traditions, culture and long-standing reliance on the basic benefits and resources provided, like food fishes, wood construction products and medicinal aids.  A recent rapid survey of Boigu Island mangroves by Norm Duke discovered that while the number of mangrove species known to scientists and managers was significantly increased from 18 to 30, these were already well known locally and named.  The current proposal builds on this understanding, where scientists are better off working in partnership with traditional owners to fully describe and document new and existing knowledge of mangrove habitats throughout Torres Strait.

Whilst the marine (seagrass and coral reef) ecosystems of Torres Strait are fairly well known, the freshwater ecosystems are almost unknown (or at least unrecorded).  For most islands, it is not known (or at least recorded) what freshwater ecosystems are present, whether they are permanent and what their biota, condition and status are.  There is thus a serious lack of baseline data on this important ecosystem type in Torres Strait.

Whilst there is not expected to be an extensive array of freshwater habitats on most islands, the few that are present are likely to be of high ecological and/or social value.  The ephemeral nature of most freshwaters on the islands makes them vulnerable to disturbance (e.g. humans or feral animals such as pigs or toads) and climate change.  Thus, establishing a baseline of current condition is important to detect any future trends in the condition of the resource.

To gain an appropriate understanding of these vital wetland habitats, this project must firstly fully describe what is there, where it is, and what condition it is in.  The project team proposes to do this in full collaboration with Traditional Owners, with the added objective of not only gaining local custom knowledge but also to learn more about the vulnerability and resilience of these highly threatened natural ecosystems.

Project objectives at a glance

  • Reports on assessment of status and condition of mangroves and freshwater habitats in Torres Strait.
  • Extensive baseline data on mangrove condition, diversity and community structure against which future changes can be assessed.
  • Extensive baseline data on freshwater habitats, fish and exotic fish and aquatic plants.
  • A renewable and expanding archive of geo-referenced maps and imagery, available online with assessments of past and current condition of coastal and estuarine habitats, aided by a new web access platform called ShoreView, complemented by a community science partnership program called MangroveWatch ( coordinated by Norm Duke.
  • Community dialogue on values and management of mangroves and freshwaters and increased awareness, especially among land and sea rangers.

Specific objectives and intended outputs of this Project are detailed in the NERP TE Hub Multi-Year Research Plan.

Project Factsheet     Project Factsheet for the Torres Strait community


Link to the Project 2.2 homepage on e-Atlas



Project Duration: 
1 Jul 2011 to 31 Dec 2014