The Salt Flats of Exmouth Gulf: Ecological Functions and Threats

Sharyn Hickey, Catherine Lovelock

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The Exmouth Gulf and more broadly the coastal north-west Pilbara region of Australia is a remote landscape that is globally unique. In this region salt flats occur on the landward edge of intertidal zone, often bordered seaward by fringing mangroves and landward by dunes. The salt flats, in parts, are covered by cyanobacterial mats, comprised of microbial cyanobacterial communities.

The salt flats are an extensive landform in the region and cover an area greater than mangroves, however these habitats have had relatively limited research. As such, knowledge of the ecological role, values and functions of the salt flats, and cyanobacterial mats are limited, though their role in salt production is of current interest.

The two main pressures on the region and the habitats that exist and support fauna within the region are; [i] climate change; and [ii] direct anthropogenic pressures (e.g., land development and reclamation), however the cumulative pressures, that is, where these threats overlap and interact may be one of greatest uncertainty and risk.

We provide a review of the main literature to ascertain the role of cyanobacterial mats in the southern and eastern Exmouth Gulf, in doing so we discuss some key ecosystem functions including their role in salt production and exchange, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, vertical accretion, and in fisheries. We undertake a literature review to ascertain the current state of knowledge of these systems relative to similar intertidal and coastal habitats. Finally we provide comment on the current vulnerabilities of the salt flats.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationThe University of Western Australia
Commissioning bodyMinderoo Foundation
Number of pages49
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2022


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