Aerial imagery of large scale diebacks of Mangrove trees. Source: James Cook University
Aerial imagery of large scale diebacks of Mangrove trees. Source: James Cook University

Written by Julia Wighton, edited for online by Tegan Atkins

Scientists worried about “unprecedented” deaths of mangroves in northern Australia are deeply concerned and searching for answers.

Scientists did not know why the extensive damage, spanning from the southern fringe of the Gulf across to the Northern Territory border, was happening but were determined to find out.

Spokesman for the Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network Dr Norm Duke said scientists were using satellite imagery to determine the extent of the damage.

“The photos we’ve got from the Northern Territory side (show) there are bands of mangroves which would have to be about a kilometre wide and they’re all dead,” he said.

Dr Duke said mangroves were nature’s kidneys and the fisheries depended heavily on the mangrove habitats.

“We’re hearing from fishermen from Karumba on the Queensland side of the gulf that their catches have been deteriorating in recent years and it may be associated with this dieback,” he said.

“Mangroves store about five times more carbon than other forests and if they’re dead then they are unable to protect the carbon store that is beneath and amongst their roots.”

Aerial imagery of large scale diebacks of Mangrove trees.
Mangroves in Queensland are protected species. Source: Brisbane Times

Program coordinator for Rec Fishing Research Matt Barwick said the dieback had nationwide implications.

“It limits the productivity of our fisheries,” Mr Barwick said.

“We end with a situation where there’s a lot of conflict between the different sectors of the fishing community because there is a diminishing availability of fish to be harvested for recreational, indigenous or commercial needs.”

The widespread damage was highlighted at an international wetland conference held last week in Darwin.

Dr Duke said everyone at the conference was deeply concerned about the widespread damage and needed more action to save our mangroves.

“What we need is a capacity to be able to respond to such incidents to raise awareness but also look to the cause,” he said.

Australia is home to seven per cent of the world’s mangroves.