Educating For Our Mangroves
As most of you would realise, mangroves are the salt tolerant forest ecosystems of our intertidal shores. All too often however, mangroves have been regarded as wastelands of little or no value until they are developed.
However, mangroves can provide sustainable and reasonable benefits to coastal communities, which would be lost if such environments were otherwise converted to a non-renewable landuse.
In planning and managing any mangrove resource, the primary goal must be sustainable use. Failure to view mangroves in this way will lead to inefficient use and waste of their values to coastal populations and will have severe and direct social, economic and ecological impacts. Education in the marine and coastal environment is one tool that can change public misconceptions about the value of mangroves.
Tooradin - The Fragile Classroom
The Tooradin Marine Life Centre delivers educational programs to school children from prep grade to V.C.E. Biology. They focus on our local marine environment and in particular on the White Mangrove (Avicennia marina) community.
Last year 15,000 students visited the Centre mainly on a day excursion basis. Of course, if all of these budding researchers were taken out on to the mud flats every year the environment that we teach about would be severely degraded. The areas concerned are very fragile and do not respond positively to a lot of pedestrian traffic.
The Tooradin Marine Life Centre made a commitment when it started running marine education programs that it should have a minimal impact on the environment being studied. With this in mind the only students who walk on mangrove and saltmarsh communities in Tooradin are Year 11 Biology students, who utilise set areas for saltmarsh species identification and linear transects.
When these activities are being carried out the designated areas are conspicuously marked and the education officers instruct how to move about in these areas with the smallest amount of impact. It is surprising how many secondary school teachers don't think that their students have had a good experience unless they are covered at least up to their knees in smelly mud. These practices are of course discouraged.
The sites are rotated on a regular basis and we have found that good regrowth occurs if areas that are used one year are rested the following year.
Year 11 Biology students only make up about 10% of the total visitations to the Centre and as it was required to give the other 90% an intimate encounter with a mangrove ecosystem. It was found that by conducting a lesson from aboard a specially designed "flat bottomed" boat this could be achieved.
Groups are divided into half class sizes and the Marine Life Centre's boat navigates slowly up Sawtells Inlet. From the channel the passengers can closely study the mangroves and the associated fauna as the coxswain describes the environment and answers questions. Older students are required to complete work sheets during the voyage which has a duration of about half an hour.
The flood gates, located on the South Gippsland Highway in Tooradin, are designed to hold out the incoming tide, protecting low lying areas on the northern side of the highway from inundation. The structure also has the effect of not allowing this area of the inlet to dry completely at low tide as occurs on the southern side of the structure. This is of great benefit as it allows the boat to operate at all states of the tide.
The boat is propelled by a 9.9 horse power outboard motor. The Yamaha motor used is a four stroke design which alleviates the problem of oil being introduced into the environment. It has the added benefit of being extremely quiet and very efficient. The boat trip is always exciting for the different age groups who participate and it really provides an excellent method of getting a close up look at this fragile environment, without having any significant impact.
Because the Tooradin area is utilised as an educational resource it is necessary to have regular clean up days to help overcome the constant problem of rubbish pollution. The method used involves the use of small plastic dinghies which are nosed up under the mangroves and the litter is then raked carefully to the front of the boat and placed in bags. On each occasion the plastic bags being removed from the environment are separated and on most occasions it is discovered that 60-70% of these are bait bags which are easily identified.
As a result an education campaign has been developed which is directed at the fishermen using the inlet in conjunction with the Tooradin Coast Action Group. Funding has recently been approved to erect signs displaying a photo of Mr Rex Hunt who asks that litter be taken home. An education leaflet is also being developed which will be given away with bait purchases, and will contain fishing tips as well as highlighting the significance of this environment and describing the best practices to protect it.
The local council plans to spend $250,000 in this area in the next twelve months, in an effort to attract tourists. This will place more pressure on the inlet and some concerns have been raised with respect to people pressure on the Tooradin mangrove environment in the hope they can be addressed at the planning stages of any development plans.
The Tooradin Marine Life Centre is confident that it will be able to deliver quality educational packages well into the future and with sound management practices will be able to prevent any degradation of this fragile environment.
Planning and Management Principles for Mangroves
Mangroves are too valuable to allow them to be lost to other forms of land use except when overriding national priorities are involved and no other alternative is economically and environmentally feasible. No easy short term solution may be available but educational programs that involve or inform people of the diversity of sustainable uses of the Mangrove resource may be helpful.
Both sustainable use and preservation can be incorporated into an effective planning policy if it has the following objectives :
The implementation of any planning policy for Mangroves should aim to fulfill the following management needs:
A Planning Response for Mangroves
A majority of mangrove communities are located within public land/foreshore reserves. Planners should continue to ensure that future developments on coastal shores, including port installations, priers, small boat harbours, marinas, and canal estates should preferably be located away from sectors of the coast that are still mangrove-fringed, or that could have their former Mangrove fringe restored. Alternatively, there may be a case for intensively developing one area as a marina and boat launching complex as a headquarters for waterborne recreation and imposing a strict conservation program on the rest of the coastline.
Possible repercussions of any substantial reduction or modification of mangroves may be:
In recent times, both the New South Wales and Victoria Governments have released their approved Coastal Policy and Coastal Strategy respectively. Both of these documents contain provisions that specifically recognise the importance of protecting valuable coastal wetlands including seagrasses, mangroves and saltmarshes. The approach to implementing such policy actions are different with NSW opting for the use of existing planning legislation while Victoria will be seeking to introduce protection through the new Victorian Planning Provisions and Municipal Strategic Statements.
Coastal and Marine Education
The theme of this conference "Marine Conservation through Education" is very relevant particularly for mangrove wetlands because of a very poor public appreciation of their values and ecological importance for healthy, productive estuaries.
Improvements towards coastal and marine education can be achieved through the planning and management regimes that operate in both NSW and Victoria.
In NSW, under the Estuary Management Program, and in Victoria, under the Coastal Action Plan program, opportunities exist to form community based committees to undertake and direct the preparation of Estuary Management Plans and Coastal Action Plans. Through the process of preparing such plans, information on estuary processes and mangrove functioning can be determined and disseminated through the Committee to local communities. At this local level the degree of understanding increases as the amount of information on ecosystem processes is uncovered and discussed.
As a result, a transformation occurs whereby a very parochial, single issue driven group of people first start out planning and managing their coastal or marine environment convert to a group of people, coherent and informed and empowered to disseminate information to people around them.
The process consists of information leading to knowledge leading to understanding leading to appreciation leading to protection and ownership.
Through this process conservation of our Coastal and Marine environments including mangrove wetlands and other coastal wetland systems can be increased.
The opportunity exists in both NSW and Victoria to be grasped and used with successes already being chalked up in NSW while in Victoria, under the new Coastal Strategy, the opportunity is available to the community in an open and integrated way for the first time. Although, as can be seen with the Tooradin Marine Life Centre, some of these opportunities are being 'chalked' up already.
Scientific study of Mangrove habitats and ecosystems is still needed to assist in the preparation of management plans and coastal planning policy to take into account the Mangrove environment is landuse decision making.
Any such decisions must be made by government bodies with due consideration and adequate assessment given by weighting the immediate need to utilise the particular Mangrove environment against the risks of long term damage to the environment which is likely to follow the removal of this highly productive natural ecosystem.