Changes in the Area of Coastal Marsh in Victoria since the Mid 19th Century

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Sinclair, Steve and Boon, Paul I (2012) Changes in the Area of Coastal Marsh in Victoria since the Mid 19th Century. Cunninghamia, 12 (2). pp. 153-176. ISSN 0727-9620


European settlement in Australia has always been concentrated along or close to the coast. As a consequence, saltmarshes, mangroves and other coastal marshes have experienced a long history of modification and destruction. Depletion statistics are available for many coastal marshes in the Northern Hemisphere and, in Australia, for parts of New South Wales and Queensland. There are no equivalent State-wide data for Victoria. Using a suite of historical information, including extensive use of early surveyors’ maps, we aimed to provide a consistent view of the change in the extent of coastal marshes since European colonization in Victoria (i.e. the mid-19th century). Notwithstanding the difficulties of interpretation, we estimate that prior to European colonization Victoria supported approximately 346– 421 km 2 of coastal marsh, of which approximately 80–95% remains. Although a simplistic interpretation suggests a net loss of 5–20% in wetland area over this time period, it is clear that some parts of the coast have experienced relatively little change since the mid 19th century whereas others have been severely depleted and, in a few sectors, there may have been an expansion of coastal marsh. The situation with the Gippsland Lakes is complex, and according to the method used to interpret the original data sources there has either been a substantial increase or a loss of up to 35% in wetland area around Lake Wellington. The largest absolute losses have probably been of EVC 140 Mangrove Shrubland and of coastal saltmarsh dominated by Tecticornia spp. Parts of the coast where significant losses have occurred include the Lonsdale Lakes, western shore of Port Phillip Bay, Anderson Inlet, Shallow Inlet, Powlett- Kilcunda, Corner Inlet and Nooramunga, and possibly Lake Wellington. With the exception of the Lonsdale Lakes, all these areas are situated along the Gippsland coast. Changes to coastal marshes have not stopped and are unlikely to cease in the near future. The destruction of coastal marshes for industrial development remains an ongoing threat in many regions (e.g. in Western Port) and is likely to be compounded by climate change and, in particular, sea-level rise.

Item type Article
Official URL
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 0501 Ecological Applications
Historical > FOR Classification > 0602 Ecology
Historical > SEO Classification > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation
Current > Division/Research > College of Science and Engineering
Keywords ResPubID26009, coastal ecology, wetlands ecology, Victoria, history, 1800s, 1900s, 20th century, parks, lakes, inlets, islands
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