Valuing mangroves and saltmarshes to improve economic, social and environmental outcomes

Dr Ian Cresswell1



While coastal systems play a key role in the culture, economy and environment of Australia, perhaps the least understood of all Australian coastal systems are its mangroves and salt marshes. One key aspect of mangroves and saltmarshes that has been identified for many years are the ecosystem services they provide that underpin multiple human interests within and beyond the systems themselves. One mechanism to improve understanding is to better quantify the natural assets these systems provide that sustain productive and sustainable livelihoods. Valuing these natural assets is a key step in improving natural resource management practices that in turn leads to increased environmental sustainability.

This presentation describes the interactions between mangroves and saltmarshes with prawn fisheries and ecosystem services provided by these natural assets. Understanding the links between the physical environment and business activities, and quantifying impacts of different activities and the condition of the physical environment, can inform management practices to achieve increased profits and environmental sustainability. Through inventory of natural estuarine assets, associated with the life history of key commercial species, it is possible to identify important coastal wetlands, riverine and riparian areas, including an understanding of connectivity.

Improved understanding of the value of saltmarshes and mangroves can feed directly into their management both in terms of protection but also restoration. As the importance of mangrove habitat becomes better known then land-use decisions, at the local level, can take into account the need to conserve and manage these coastal assets. This is particularly relevant in areas where there is increasing development pressure requiring clearing or degradation of areas of mangroves and saltmarshes. Increased understanding and capacity of local communities provides new opportunities to engage in emerging markets for environmental services.


Ian is a CSIRO Research Director leading biodiversity and landscape science for the management of the environment, while ensuring broader economic and social benefit. He has extensive experience working on environmental issues both nationally and internationally; including in reserve planning, fisheries/wildlife regulation, protected areas and biodiversity discovery.

Ian has worked extensively on the development of major frameworks for conservation and sustainable use, including the establishment of the National Reserve System and the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) in the 1990s. Working collaboratively with leading scientists from all jurisdictions he developed the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) and the Integrated Marine and Coastal Regionalisation for Australia (IMCRA), as well as the Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database (CAPAD) and the National Vegetation Information System (NVIS). These tools have been critical for standardised conservation assessment throughout Australia.

Ian is actively involved in major multi-institutional collaborations such as the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), and maintains an active research interest in mangroves, saltmarshes and coastal ecosystems.