Australia’s mangrove observing system

by TERN Australia



Providing open-access to decades of historical and newly acquired field and Earth observation data on Australia’s mangrove ecosystems to support their sustainable management.

Project implemented: June 2018

Project goal

The ultimate goal of TERN’s mangrove observing system is to foster the protection and sustainable management of mangrove ecosystems in Australia, recognising their vital environmental, societal and economic roles.

delivering on

why is this project important?

The data contained in the TERN mangrove observing system are of vital importance to the ongoing management of our mangrove ecosystems by both state and federal agencies. Data and systems like this one can inform environmental policy in Australia and will allow the nation to contribute to international environmental conventions including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is hoped that TERN’s efforts in creating this observing system will lead to routine monitoring of mangroves at a national level with input from an expert community in Australia and internationally.

Key steps to make it happen

1Collate historical data

TERN has identified, collated and published decades of historical mangrove data and imagery for open-access.

2Collect new data

TERN is investing in remote sensing and Earth observation techniques to collate near real-time data on mangroves.

3Create alert system

TERN plans to create a mangrove observing system that goes beyond initial alerts and provides information on future trends.

impact to date

Years of historical data now openly available.
Kilometers of coastline with airborne LiDAR and digital photography available.
Metre resolution data showing mangrove extent and canopy cover from 1987 to 2016

TERN’s 2017 LiDAR and aerial imagery dataset over the Gulf of Carpenteria represents the largest single dedicated acquisition of such data over a mangrove ecosystem anywhere in the world. It’s a baseline that is being used by researchers to understanding how this dynamic ecosystem is responding to environmental change in Australia.

The TERN is collaborating with Vietnam to process satellite imagery of the Mekong River, with the results of this work being used to validate whether the TERN methodology can be applied around the globe.

Mangrove ecosystems are a vital part of Australia’s environment. They support faunal biodiversity, filter pollutants, protect estuaries and marine ecosystems from sedimentation and reduce coastal erosion and storm damage. They also store up to 40 times more carbon than terrestrial forests, hence their ‘blue carbon ecosystem’ tag.

Despite being protected by state, national and international legislation, the vulnerability of these valuable ecosystems to adverse environmental change was exposed in 2016, when about 10,000 hectares (or about 10,000 rugby fields) of mangroves along Australia’s northern coast suffered rapid dieback.

The event was not identified until several months later, which highlighted the urgent need for a national mangrove observing system that is fully integrated with existing environmental monitoring initiatives.

An observing system that goes beyond the initial alert and provides information on future trends in response to varying environmental conditions is required. TERN is making a major contribution towards such a system by collating a diverse range of existing datasets, acquiring new field and Earth observation (EO) data, and generating derived data products.

In a giant leap towards the creation of Australia’s first nationwide mangrove observing system, TERN has provided open access to decades of historical and newly acquired field and Earth observation data. These data alert scientists and managers to coastal environmental change, provide new knowledge on the causes and impacts of this change, and support the sustainable management of our immensely important mangrove ecosystems.

One of the key mangrove datasets now openly available via TERN is multi-scale field measurements of mangrove floristics, structure and biomass supported by a diverse range of airborne imagery collected since the 1950s. Black and white and colour aerial photographs are now available alongside multispectral and hyperspectral imagery captured by drones, aircraft and satellites.

Time-series data showing mangrove extent and canopy cover at a 25m resolution from 1987 to 2016 are now openly available through TERN. In addition, newly acquired ultra high-definition imagery and data collected using remote sensing and Earth observation (EO) techniques are now openly available via TERN. This includes airborne LiDAR and digital photography along the entire coastline of the Gulf of Carpentaria in 2017.

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