Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 1469–1479 | Cite as

Quantifying changes to historic fish habitat extent on north coast NSW floodplains, Australia

  • Kerrylee Rogers
  • Evan J. Knoll
  • Craig Copeland
  • Simon Walsh
Original Article


Global degradation of coastal ecosystems is influencing the provision of ecosystem services, including fisheries maintenance services. Degradation of the Australian coastal zone and its resources following European occupation has been recognised for some time. This includes the loss of ecologically important coastal wetlands, which have strong trophic and habitat links to fisheries. In NSW, structural flood mitigation works are a principle driver of the decline of coastal wetlands; however, little action has been taken to quantify the extent of decline due to limited information of the pre-European settlement extent of coastal wetlands. We use spatial data sets in GIS to quantify prime fish habitat and calculate the loss of fish habitat for the large coastal floodplains of northern NSW, which are significant contributors to the commercial and recreational fisheries of NSW. The technique is validated by comparison with early maps of wetland distribution. We identified pre-European distribution of available fish habitat of approximately 477,000 ha, of which 87,000 ha was identified as prime fish habitat. Approximately 62,000 ha of prime fish habitat was impacted by drainage of the coastal floodplains in association with flood mitigation works which intensified in the mid-1950s and were largely completed by 1971, equating to a loss of approximately 72 % of prime fish habitat. The declining value of the ecosystem services provided by prime fish habitat following drainage is likely to be substantial. Some actions have taken place to restore the functions of this habitat although significant opportunities remain to reverse this decline through management actions that restore natural drainage and reinstate tidal exchange. These actions become even more important as pressures on coastal wetlands increase with climate change and associated sea-level rise.


Fish habitat Drainage Ecosystem services Coastal wetland loss Fish habitat degradation Wetland restoration 



The authors would like to thank Dr Craig Boys, Dr Matt Taylor and Greg West for expert advice on fish habitat assessment and mapping. We would also like to thank Alexa Troedson, Geological Survey of New South Wales for consultation and background to the CCA Quaternary Geology mapping process. We also thank two independent reviewers for their useful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Kerrylee Rogers receives research funding from the Australian Research Council (FT130100532).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerrylee Rogers
    • 1
  • Evan J. Knoll
    • 2
  • Craig Copeland
    • 2
  • Simon Walsh
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental ScienceUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries (DPI Fisheries)WollongbarAustralia

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