19 November 2008

They may be smelly, muddy and full of biting insects but 75 percent of the fish caught in Queensland depend on mangroves, which is just one reason to protect the threatened wetlands, according to UQ researcher Dr Norm Duke.

Dr Duke and his team from UQ’s Centre for Marine Studies are currently investigating why 2000 hectares of once-healthy mangroves in Moreton Bay are now a lifeless, anoxic mosquito breeding ground.

“Our emphasis is on monitoring and investigation,” Dr Duke said.

“We are developing methods to assess the changes and pressures on these ecosystems.

“This strategy would hopefully give researchers and environmental managers around Australia clues as to why changes in the mangrove habitat – such as dead animals, sinking ponds and dieback – occurred.”

These research projects will be discussed during the inaugural Australian Mangrove Research Labs Forum, which opens at UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station tomorrow.

The two-day event will bring together about 30 mangrove experts from universities across Australia.

“The aim is to foster close collaboration between these research groups, to share ideas and information, to discuss the benefits of a formal association, and to seek collaboration in big and emerging issues affecting tidal wetlands around the country,” Dr Duke said.

“We wish to bolster Australia’s flagging reputation in the field of coastal ecosystem management by developing substantive top-level projects.

“This is needed urgently to nurture and retain talented researchers and students in Australia, so we are better able to cope with anticipated changes in coastal environments in coming years.

“We are also increasingly being called upon to train overseas researchers and managers in this field.”

The impact of climate change on mangroves is another of Dr Duke’s research interests and an issue likely to dominate discussion at the forum.

“We need to know how climate change will affect things,” he said.

“As rainfall patterns change, entire mangrove habitats will move upland, and we need to work out a way to avoid them being squeezed out of existence.”

Media are welcome to attend the forum on either day.

Media: Dr Duke (07 3365 2729, 0419 673 366, n.duke@uq.edu.au) or Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)