Herbicides implicated as the cause of severe mangrove dieback in the Mackay region, NE Australia: consequences for marine plant habitats of the GBR World Heritage Area
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Herbicides, particularly diuron, were correlated with severe and widespread dieback of the dominant mangrove, Avicennia marina (Forsk.) Vierh. var. eucalyptifolia (Val.) N.C. Duke (Avicenniaceae), its reduced canopy condition, and declines in seedling health within three neighbouring estuaries in the Mackay region of NE Australia. This unusual species-specific dieback, first observed in the early 1990s, had gotten notably worse by 2002 to affect >30km2 of mangroves in at least five adjacent estuaries in the region. Over the past century, agricultural production has responded well to the demands of increasing population with improvements in farm efficiency assisted by significant increases in the use of agricultural chemicals. However, with regular and episodic river flow events, these chemicals have sometimes found their way into estuarine and nearshore water and sediments where their effects on marine habitats have been largely unquantified. Investigations over the last three years in the Mackay region provide compelling evidence of diuron, and possibly other agricultural herbicides, as the most likely cause of the severe and widespread mangrove dieback. The likely consequences of such dieback included declines in coastal water quality with increased turbidity, nutrients and sediment deposition, as well as further dispersal of the toxic chemicals. The implications of such findings are immense since they describe not only the serious deterioration of protected and beneficial mangrove habitat but also the potential for significant direct and indirect effects on other highly-valued estuarine and marine habitats in the region, including seagrass beds and coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. This article reviews all key findings and observations to date and describes the essential correlative and causative evidence.
Marine Pollution Bulletin
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)