An environmental health monitoring program that harnesses the power of citizen science to protect and preserve mangrove and saltmarsh habitats is expanding to include the region’s largest river catchment.
The Cairns chapter of MangroveWatch, which is coordinated by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC), was set up to fill an important monitoring gap between Rockhampton and Cape York. It has monitored Trinity Inlet and the Barron River since 2017 and Dickson Inlet and the Endeavour, Starke, Mulgrave and Russell rivers since 2019.
Funding from Terrain NRM’s Natural Capital Fund is helping the program to expand into the Herbert River and Hinchinbrook Channel for the 2021/22 monitoring season. The expansion will establish baseline data on mangrove health and potential threats. The program will also contribute indicator data for the Wet Tropics Waterway Health Report Card – which assesses waterway health and tracks trends.
Terrain NRM’s Chelsy Maloney says the data collected through CANEC’s program is helping to build a more comprehensive picture of mangrove condition.
“As a community we can’t protect or respond to disturbances in these vital ecosystems without knowledge of how they are changing. Long term monitoring from a baseline gives a sound indicator of change over time. We’re pleased to support the work of CAFNEC and MangroveWatch.”
“Annual monitoring in the Hinchinbrook Channel has also been tracking the recovery of mangroves since Cyclone Yasi devastated the area,” said Ms Maloney.
Mangrove ecosystems worldwide are experiencing die-back due to climate change, and are also affected at a local level by urban development, rubbish, pollution and weeds.
The trend is worrying as mangroves provide important ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, and provide coastal communities with protection from the impact of cyclones and extreme weather. They also nurture around 75% of all coastal fish catches. CAFNEC’s Alex Sinchak coordinates the program in the Far North and says it creates connection for the community with their local environment.
“Volunteers don’t need any scientific training to participate – everybody is welcome. We provide volunteers with all the training and equipment needed.”
Volunteers monitor mangrove shorelines from boats and using video, photographs, GPS and observer notes to record geotagged visual data.
“A lot of people ask about the difference in quality between community and expert monitoring and we’ve actually undertaken assessments of community versus expert scores, and shown that mean community score is equivalent to an individual expert’s knowledge.”
“Experts might be experts, but they don’t necessarily have that local knowledge about the environment they’re assessing, and that’s why community volunteers are so essential.
Community members can get involved with MangroveWatch by registering their interest through the CAFNEC website.