Engineering the future: Coastal wetlands

Tucker T1, Glamore W1, Ruprecht J1, Rayner D1

1University Of New South Wales Sydney Water Research Laboratory


Since the 18th century, almost 90% of wetlands have been lost and in recent years the rate of loss of coastal wetlands has overtaken that of inland wetlands (Davidson, 2014). Development and drainage of coastal floodplains has contributed to this loss, with floodplains becoming isolated from estuarine waterways. This has drastically altered floodplains and ultimately changed their hydrology. Whilst some works have improved agricultural productivity, the overall changes to coastal floodplains have resulted in negative environmental impacts associated with wetland habitat loss, poor water quality, and a reduction in biodiversity.

Investigations completed in recent years have highlighted the value of coastal wetlands in providing ecosystem services to floodplains and coastal waterways for significant environmental and economic benefits. With this realisation there has been an increased uptake of programs that identify, restore and create new coastal wetland habitats.

Here we present three NSW case studies which have all utilised a strategic and novel approach to engineer, for the future, coastal wetland habitat. On the Hunter River the use of automated floodgates has successfully shown that tides can be controlled to facilitate targeted habitat growth. Furthermore, future locations for the retreat of habitat caused by rising sea levels has been mapped. At Clybucca, on the Macleay River, a new staged approach to remediating wetland habitat has been developed, taking into consideration the encroaching sea level rise. At Big Swamp, on the Manning River, it has been shown that by utilising a strategic future focussed engineering approach that extensive wetland habitat can thrive.


Toby is a Project Engineer at the UNSW Sydney Water Research Laboratory. He is currently working on the restoration of estuarine wetland ecosystems. Using his skills as a field engineer and numerical modeler, he is helping to lead the field in developing strategies to improve entire estuaries along the New South Wales coastline and beyond.