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Saving saltmarsh.

A group of committed citizen scientists is keeping tabs on a lesser known coastal ecosystem, and developing a new appreciation for saltmarsh.

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People sometimes think that the 'experts' are taking care of things, or that to be involved you need a degree. But the community can play an active and much-needed role.

Saltmarsh is something we’ve likely all seen but maybe not recognised. Found on the landward side of mangroves, saltmarsh is flat and often swampy and if healthy, will be covered in salt-tolerant native grasses, shrubs and sedges. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for it to be a dumping ground for rubbish, whitegoods and car bodies.

Similar to mangroves, saltmarsh helps stop erosion, stores and sequesters carbon (quickly and in large amounts) and provides important habitat and nursery grounds. They’re also a fragile ecosystem. Saltmarsh didn’t take up a big area even before colonisation, and now is under pressure from climate change, coastal development, illegal dumping and pollution.

Getting a grasp on how it’s they’re doing is the first step in working out how best to help it them – and that’s exactly what’s happening through an environmental health monitoring program coordinated by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC).

MangroveWatch harnesses the power of citizen science to protect and preserve mangrove and saltmarsh habitats. Since 2017, CAFNEC has been working with local communities to fill an important monitoring gap and track how tidal ecosystems are faring. The program has expanded to regularly monitor eight estuaries and the goal is to include all estuaries in the Wet Tropics region.

Monitoring runs from April to October. It includes land-based saltmarsh monitoring and shoreline mangrove assessments from boats. The data is crunched by scientists and given back to community stakeholders and decision makers to help them lobby for investment in tidal habitats.

Since the Far Northern chapter of MangroveWatch began, more than 400 people have been trained and together they’ve put in 1400 volunteer hours.

Volunteer Shannon Bredeson says she has a newfound appreciation for saltmarsh.

“I’ve learned through hands-on experience. Opportunities like MangroveWatch show you how simple it is to get involved and have an impact. I think people sometimes think that the ‘experts’ are taking care of things, or that to be involved you need a degree. When it comes to looking after coastal ecosystems, the community can play an active and much-needed role.”

The Cairns and Far North Environment Centre’s Mangrove Watch project (2019-2021) has received funding from the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation; from Terrain NRM’s Natural Capital Fund; and support from MangroveWatch, Earthwatch Australia, Great Barrier Reef Legacy, South Cape York Catchments, and Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation.

The newest round of funding from the Great Barrier Reef Foundations Citizen Science for Change Grants has enabled CAFNEC to form partnerships with Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, Wanyurr Majay Aboriginal Corporation, Holloways Beach Coastcare, Mulgrave Landcare, and Johnstone Water and Landcare to continue monitoring and enhance organisational capacity between now and 2024.

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