Climate Action

Mudflats and intertidal ecosystems are shrinking, finds study

A new study by the University of Queensland and the University of South Wales has found that mudflats and intertidal ecosystems are shrinking.

  • 02 January 2019
  • Rachel Cooper

A new study by the University of Queensland and the University of South Wales has found that mudflats and intertidal ecosystems are shrinking.

The study used artificial intelligence and extensive satellite imagery to map the world’s intertidal zones for the first time ever.

The research, published in the journal Nature, found that increasing human populations around the global coastline have caused extensive loss, degradation and fragmentation of coastal systems.

According to the study, around 70 per cent of the global extent of tidal flats is found in three continents; Asia, North America and South America. For areas with sufficient data, the study found that global foreshore environments have declined by up to 16 per cent between 1984 and 2016.

Tidal flat ecosystems provide important services including shoreline stabilisation, storm protection and food production. However, they are under threat from coastal development, sea rise, coastal erosion, and reduced sediment fluxes from rivers.  

Dr Nick Murray, with UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “Our analysis showed that in places like China, where coastal developments in the intertidal zone have been occurring for decades, extensive losses of tidal flats have occurred. Coastal development is widespread throughout the world and developments are often built on the areas on and around tidal flat ecosystems. Meanwhile, sea level rise has been shown to cause the loss of tidal flat ecosystems, particularly where they cannot migrate naturally to accommodate changing sea levels.”

Read the full report here.