Date of Submission
Intertidal wetland habitats in southeastern Australia have changed significantly during the past sixty years. Mangrove habitats have expanded both seawards and landwards, the latter being at the expense of saltmarsh habitats. This relatively common phenomenon is generally suggested to be an outcome of sea-level rise. Several factors potentially responsible for this change are examined, including changes in mean sealevel during the past 50 to 100 years, changes in climate, population growth, catchment landuse, and estuary type.
A protocol for mapping estuarine habitats was developed and implemented, incorporating the application of geographic information systems. Spatial and temporal coastal wetland habitat changes at nine sites along the New South Wales coast are illustrated. These habitat dynamics were shown to not correlate between sites. The results demonstrate that sea-level rise in this region cannot solely account for the extent of change during the past sixty years. With the exception of one site (Careel Bay), there have been no correlations between contemporary mean sea-level rise and mangrove incursion of the saltmarsh habitats at the study sites, or with rainfall patterns, at the scale of observation in this study, which was largely decadal. The only correlations determined during this study have been between population growth and coastal wetland habitat dynamics in some sites.
In spite of saltmarsh habitat loss being a regional phenomenon, local factors appear to have a profound bearing on the rates of change. Neither contemporary mean sea-level rise, rainfall patterns, estuary type, catchment landuse, catchment natural cover nor population pressure can account solely for the patterns in the spatial and temporal dynamics of the coastal wetlands of New South Wales. It seems apparent that regional factors create preconditions favourable for mangrove incursion, but that localised conditions have been responsible for the extent of these incursions from site to site. That is, despite higher sea-level and greater rainfall, the extent of change has been determined by the unique characteristics of each site.
The results have important implications for current estuary management practices in the state of New South Wales. The lack of spatial and temporal trends in coastal wetland habitat dynamics point to the need for management to be conducted on a localised, rather than regional scale. Additionally, anthropogenic influences must be carefully managed, since the extent of mangrove habitat expansion into saltmarsh areas is unlikely to be a natural
School of Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Wilton, K. M. (2002). Coastal wetland habitat dynamics in selected New South Wales estuaries [Vol. 1] (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/60