Australia’s mangrove habitats are influenced profoundly and decisively by human attitudes of the day where different communities have quite distinct management practices. Such practices closely match cultural attitudes to reflect current socio-economic pressures combined with community awareness of the benefits and vulnerability of mangroves.

Over time, these can, and must, alter and adapt to reflect new or anticipated conditions – especially if we wish to preserve and sustain the rich natural heritage of mangroves in Australia.

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Aboriginal Australian Use of Mangroves

Edible molluscs from mangroves

Edible mollusks harvested from amongst the mangrove roots, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.

Stone fish trap

A long abandoned stone fish trap on Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland

Shield from Avicennia Marina

Two Aboriginal men taking bark from an Avicennia marina tree to make a shield (Ngamba tribe) in Port Macquarie area, New South Wales, around 1905. photo: NSW State Library

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, just over 200 years ago, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of coastal areas managed all of Australia’s mangroves. Many natural resource products were gathered from mangroves and used by Indigenous peoples in a sustainable way for more than 40,000 years. Over this time, Indigenous people left little, or no, significant impact on these ecosystems. These ecosystems continue to have high cultural significance. Furthermore, many Indigenous foods are still obtained from mangrove environments, including boring bivalves, clams, mud crabs, mangrove worms, and of course the fish, Barramundi and Mangrove Jack. Certain mangrove plants are also used as food, like Avicennia marina fruit. Mangrove plants are also a source of medicines. For instance, the ashes from burnt Ceriops australis and Camptostemon schultzii wood is used to heal sores and infections, while the bark of Avicennia marina is used to treat stingray stings. Mangrove timber has been used to construct canoes, paddles, spears and boomerangs. The list of such uses is long and diverse.

Indigenous Management Today

Today, nearly half of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population live near the coast and maintain a close association with the sea boundary based on ownership, common law rights and interests, cultural and historic associations, and traditional use of resources. In the past, some communities had depended almost entirely on fish and shellfish for their subsistence. Food from the sea remains an important part of the diets of coastal communities of Indigenous people. The most prominent fish species used are mullet, catfish, sea perch/snapper, bream and barramundi; and, the most prominent non-fish species are mussels, other bivalves, prawns, oysters and mud crabs. In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal communities currently own and manage approximately 85% of coastal land in the state, containing vast tracts of mangroves. Aboriginal lands are administered by four Aboriginal Land Councils, individual communities, or through joint management agreements reached with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. Approximately 17 Indigenous Protected Areas covering almost 14 million hectares have been established through the National Reserve System Program in accordance with IUCN protected area management categories. These categories offer Indigenous landowners protected area status that can accommodate customary values and uses. This includes the sustainable use of mangrove ecosystems.

Community Volunteers

A key feature of MangroveWatch is its close partnership between community volunteers and scientists from the James Cook University’s Mangrove Hub. Together they are systematically recording basic data as video and still imagery for assessments of estuarine habitat health.

Armed with expert support, training and advice, MangroveWatch volunteers in key regions are actively contributing to the monitoring of local estuaries and shorelines. An important goal in this phase of the program is to develop a network of like minded groups with the aim of producing public documents that describe important issues affecting local estuaries and mangroves, and their overall health.

Getting Involved

If you would like to find out more about us or if you like to initiate your own MangroveWatch group within your area, please contact someone at the Mangrove Hub. We will be happy to help.

  • Mangrove Hub Facilitator
  • Dr Norm Duke
  • MangroveWatch Ltd
    ABN: 44 153 297 771
  • PO Box 1250,
  • Elanora Q 4221
  • Mangrove Hub Email

Mangrove Watch Brochure

You can download our fact and information sheet (see link below) to get more information about the MangroveWatch programs.

Mangrove Watch Brochure