The Value of Coastal wetlands

There is more to wetlands than meets the eye.

Wetlands are biodiverse ecosystems that support an incredible amount of marine and freshwater life and provide multiple benefits to society and our environment.


AMCS the value of coastal wetlands Water Quality 2023

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Coastal wetlands play a significant role in the catchment area of the Great Barrier Reef, connecting the ocean to the land through waterways such as rivers, creeks and estuaries.

The Reef catchment comprises coastal and lagoon ecosystems, with 35 major river catchments and 14 types of coastal ecosystems, supporting over 5,000 marine and freshwater species.

Due to the many natural processes that occur in wetlands, they have a hidden and unique superpower – their ability to help tackle the biggest threats to the Reef like climate change and water pollution.


Wonderful Wetlands

Coastal wetlands act like the kidneys of the ocean by reducing nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff before it enters our Reef.

Wetlands trap sediment and are particularly effective at the removal of dissolved inorganic nitrogen through the process of denitrification, which occurs in conditions of high vegetation cover and waterlogged soils, which are low in oxygen but rich in carbon.1

Coastal wetlands cover less than 1% of the ocean, yet on a global scale they are estimated to store over a third of the world’s terrestrial carbon. In fact they capture and store 2-4x more carbon than terrestrial forests!

In Australia, these blue carbon ecosystems are a major natural tool in the fight against climate change. Conservation of existing wetlands and restoration of degraded coastal areas will help to mitigate the effects of climate change, and can work alongside critical measures to reduce our overall carbon emissions.

Tackling water pollution:

Recent research shows that the rehabilitation of just 5% of wetland area on a land parcel can lead to a 20 to 50% reduction in nitrogen pollution into the coastal zone. Rehabilitated wetlands that are appropriately designed and maintained are important in addressing water pollution.

The Great Barrier Reef needs to be strong in the face of rapidly warming oceans; stopping water pollution will give our Reef the clean water it needs to face climate change setbacks.


Despite their importance, we have lost huge areas of wetlands in Queensland through land clearing. Between 2009 and 2017, we lost 557 hectares of coastal wetlands in the Reef catchment – that’s the equivalent of 557 rugby fields!

The Australian and Queensland governments need to urgently establish an adequately funded coastal wetland restoration and protection program to rapidly improve the water quality in our Reef.


References: 1. ADAME, M. F., KAVEHEI, E. 2021. Ongoing efficiency of nitrogen processing in treatment wetlands of the Wet Tropics. Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, ARI Report No. 2021/004.