Oil spill from the Era: Mangroves taking eons to recover

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Connolly, Rod M
Connolly, Finnian N
Hayes, Matthew A
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Mangroves are highly susceptible to oil exposure. Depending on the severity, oil exposure can result in initial defoliation and eventual recovery through to mass mortality and complete loss of habitat. Some aspects of the impact of oil on mangroves and their recovery are well studied, but the focus has been on short-term responses, and the understanding of the longer-term trajectory of mangrove recovery from oiling is very limited. Here, we combine field results from sampling in the two years following a significant oiling event, with analysis of canopy cover in aerial images from before the event to 26 years afterwards. Approximately 100 ha of a monospecific stand of Avicenna marina mangroves were oiled as a result of a spill from the Era tanker in Spencer Gulf in southern Australia in September 1992. While lightly oiled trees made a full recovery, trees in heavily oiled areas experienced mass defoliation and ultimately mortality within several months of the oiling event. An analysis of aerial images indicated that there was no recovery in heavily oiled areas for 10 years following the oiling event. Between 10 and 25 years, seedling establishment and growth saw canopy cover increase to 35% of pre-oiling cover within heavily oiled areas. Predictive modelling estimates that complete recovery of mangroves to pre-oiling cover will take 55 years (median prediction in 2047). Our findings indicate that although mangroves can recover following a heavy oiling event, the rate of recovery can be slow, with full recovery in the order of half a century, much longer than has previously been anticipated.

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Marine Pollution Bulletin

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Environmental sciences

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Life Sciences & Biomedicine

Marine & Freshwater Biology


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Connolly, RM; Connolly, FN; Hayes, MA, Oil spill from the Era: Mangroves taking eons to recover, Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2020, 153