Aboriginal Use of Mangroves

Mangrove plants are not commonly used directly as a food source, probably due to the high levels of tannins and other distasteful chemicals. Because mangroves are flowering plants, the flowers are a likely source for honey; native bees are found in the mangroves during the various flowering seasons, and these are exploited now by commercial apiarists with their exotic bees. A. marina is probably the only mangrove where bees build hives, but there are other trees found in coastal areas, such as Peltophorum pterocarpum, where hives are built. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/mangr5.htm

Expertise in using mangroves for medicinal purposes has been acquired over a long period of usage. The techniques which are used vary from plant to plant, and often between groups of Aborigines. In some cases the plant, or its sap, is used directly. In other cases the leaves may be heated, or the plant material burned to an ash for application. Western science is beginning to isolate the active ingredients for some of these treatments.

Because of the intertidal nature of the mangrove environment, there is an associated movement of fish and other animal species into and out of the mangroves, as well as their presence there as larval forms. There is also seasonal movement of some animals, particularly birds, to and from the mangroves .Crustaceans and molluscs are the main two invertebrate groups which are exploited by Aborigines as a food source. Most of the hunting in the mangroves for these animals is done by women, often with children in tow. The mud crab, Scylla seratta, is an important food source and is eagerly hunted, using sticks to extract the crab from its hole. The crab is quickly disarmed by removing the main claws, and is usually cooked straight after hunting finishes. There are other crabs in the mangroves but most of these are not hunted as they are comparatively small. 

Crab hole in the trunk of the mangrove

The oyster Saccostrea scyphophilla is one species of bivalve which is often found attached to the prop roots of R. stylosa or to rocks at the same level. These are usually collected as bundles of shells and cooked in the coals. There are a number of other bivalves which are found in the mangroves or the mudflats immediately in front of them, as infaunal browsers. These are extracted from the mud and cooked in the coals of a fire. They are usually arranged in an orderly pattern to allow them to open without wasting the cooking juices.

An important bivalve which is found in dead and decaying mangrove wood is called “mangrove worm”, Teredo spp. The action of the shells moving together excavates a hole through the wood, and the wood shavings accumulate in the stomach which becomes a distended, worm-like bag. The mangrove worm is chopped from the wood using an axe and is eaten raw. http://members.ozemail.com.au/~mmichie/mangr5.htm

 This is adapted from Michie, M. (1993). The use of mangroves by Aborigines in northern Australia. Channel Island Field Study Centre Occasional Paper, No. 5.

Indigenous Uses of Mangroves

Mangroves have traditionally been used by Indigenous Australians as sources of food, including mangrove fruit, mud crabs, clams and fish such as barramundi. Mangrove timber has traditionally been used to make canoes, paddles and weapons such as shields, spears and boomerangs.

The increasing interest in bush tucker amongst non-Aboriginal people has highlighted the use by Aborigines of the resources of many habitats in Australia. There has been an upsurge in respect for knowledge held by Aborigines, which demonstrates a fundamental change in attitude towards Aborigines and their skills and talents. Coastal Aborigines in the northern Australia are major users of the mangroves, where there is an abundance of animal and plant resources.

Plant resources

There are three potential types of use for plants in a traditional society, for food, for medicines and for other purposes including tools and weapons. Table 1 lists some of uses of mangroves made by Aborigines in northern Australia. The uses vary from place to place, depending on which species are present locally and the experience of the Aborigines there. There does not appear to be much ‘shared knowledge’ even between adjacent groups; this is probably a consequence of groups using the mangroves in isolation whereas in other environments they are more likely to come in contact with other people

Traditional uses of mangroves and other plants in the mangrove habitat by Aborigines. Uses of mangroves vary from place to place and locations are given for uses in specific uses. This table is not comprehensive and comes from a variety of sources (see References).

Mangrove speciesFood useMedical useTool use
Acrostichium speciosumstems eaten after roasting  
Aegiceras corniculatumnectarsmoke for making babies strong (Belyuen)axe handles and digging sticks (Belyuen)
Aegialitis annulata  children’s toys as stingrays (Groote Eylandt, Tiwi), whistles (Belyuen, Tiwi)
Avicennia marina, white mangrovefruit eaten after treatment, (Mornington Is; Tiwi; Boorroloola, Roper R; Belyuen; Bardi; Dampierland); flavour in cooking mussels (Groote Eylandt); nectar sting-ray and stonefish ‘stings’ (Milingimbi); ringworms, sores and boils (Yirrkala); scabies (general); ‘cheeky’ mangrove worm medicine for coughs (Tiwi)shields
Bruguiera exaristatamangrove worm (Tiwi) fishing boomerangs (Bardi)
Bruguiera gymnorrhizamangrove worm (Tiwi); hypocotyls eaten after treatment (Cape York) spear tips (Belyuen); throwing sticks for hunting magpie geese (Tiwi); boomerangs
Bruguiera parvifloramangrove worms (Milingimbi; Tiwi) paddles (NQ)
Brugiera rheediihypocotyls eaten after treatment (Cape York)  
Camptostemon schultzii, kapok mangrove skin sores and scabies; leprosy sores (Galiwin’ku, Ramingining; Milingimbi)canoes and catamarans (Kimberley); canoes and floats (Milingimbi; Tiwi); floats (Ramingining)
Ceriops australisspear shafts (Tiwi)
Ceriops tagal sores and infections (Yirrkala); scabies (Tiwi)fishing boomerangs and spears (Bardi); sticks for hunting magpie geese (Tiwi)
Diospyros compactafruit eaten  
Excoecaria ovalisnectar (Groote Eylandt) toxic plant, latex causes skin to swell (Milingimbi); leprosy sores, marine stings, body painfloats for turtle hunting, firewood (Groote Eylandt); cordage
Hibiscus tiliaceusboils (Yirrkala, Galiwin’ku); washing wounds (NT); headaches, splints for fingers (Groote Eylandt)woomeras, light spears, fire sticks, harpoon rope (Groote Eylandt); string from inner bark (Belyuen); string and rope from inner bark, spear shafts, fire-sticks (Tiwi)
Lumnitzera littoreanectar-rich flowers as sweets (Yirrkala) digging sticks, throwing sticks (Belyuen)
Lumnitzera racemosanectar spears for hunting wallabies and stingrays (Tiwi); firewood, fire sticks, spears
Nypa fruticansmud mussels at base (Tiwi); unripe seeds eaten (NQ)  
Osbornia octodontacooking herbtoothache, insect repellant 
Pemphis acidula toothache (Groote Eylandt)woomera peg, digging sticks (Groote Eylandt)
Rhizophera apiculatamangrove worm (Tiwi)skin sores (Tiwi)ceremonial armbands (Tiwi)
Rhizophora stylosamangrove worm (Tiwi); mud crabs found at roots (Belyuen; Tiwi)skin sores (Tiwi); ulcers and yaws (NT)ceremonial armbands (Tiwi); boomerangs, spears, firewood (Bardi); clubs (Arhnem Land)
Scyphiphora hydrophylacea spears and digging sticks (Tiwi); yamstick
Sonneratia albanectarskin disorders (Tiwi)tops (Tiwi); carving wood
Thespesia populneoides scabiesplates (Groote Eylandt); spears, (Milingimbi); axe handles (Bardi); fire sticks, shafts for spears (Kalumburu); rope from inner bark, fire-sticks (Tiwi); fish poison
Xylocarpus mekongensis all-purpose medicine (NT)canoe repairs, shade tree (Groote Eylandt)

Mangrove Medicine

Mangrove grows on mudflat

There are only about 50 species or so, and each one is a keystone to the intertidal ecosystem they call home (Wikipedia). Despite the enormous number of animals depending on mangroves for shelter, western culture has seen mangrove forests as wastelands.  “mangroves are medicinal plants… widely used… rich in resources of steroids, triterpenes, saponins, tannins, alkaloids and flavonoids” (Namazi 2013).

Mangrove metabolism is thought to be more complicated than other trees in part because of the osmotic stress of brackish water requiring extra energy from the plant. Santini et al. were able to determine that Avicennia marina used fresh water and saline water for different metabolic processes. Growth is strongly correlated with rainfall, yet saline water was still traced through some xylem and phloem, showing that it is used by the plant without a full understanding of how or why.

The hydraulic mechanics of Avicenna marina have only been studied in depth since 2008. Nele Schmitz’s doctoral dissertation, Growing on the Edge, dives deep into the morphology of mangroves. Schmitz details how Avicennia Marina differ from terrestrial trees. While charismatic trees like Spruce have only a single cambria near the bark to carry freshwater, Avicennia Marina have many cambria, with a variety of phylum and xylem to support complex water transportation processes. While all vascular plants invest heavily in water transportation, mangroves are forced to spend even more energy here. 

Medicinal Uses of Mangroves

Root systems of the Mangrove

Mangroves are widely used by mangrove dwellers for bush medicine e.g. A. illicifolius is used for skin disorders, boils and wounds[12]. Numerous medicines derived from mangroves (ashes or bark infusions) can be applied for skin disorders e.g. Lumnitzera racemosa and sores including leprosy.. .”it is worthwhile to screen plant species which have the above properties to synthesize new drugs]. There is a rich species composition and 4000 ha of mangroves are present in Sri Lanka[8] and extracts from different mangrove plants are reported to possess diverse medicinal properties………………………….https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929774/#:~:text=Mangroves%20are%20widely%20used%20by,racemosa%20and%20sores%20including%20leprosy.

Mangroves are widely used by mangrove dwellers for bush medicine e.g. A. illicifolius is used for skin disorders, boils and wounds[12]. Numerous medicines derived from mangroves (ashes or bark infusions) can be applied for skin disorders e.g. Lumnitzera racemosa and sores including leprosy. They have been reported to treat different kinds of diseases (headaches, boils, ulcers and diarrhea)…As a preliminary study, it has found that aqueous and ethanol extracts of some mangrove species have antimicrobial activities.[16] Therefore, it is possible to control infectious agents using natural products responsible for the inhibitory effect on pathogenic microorganisms using mangrove plant extracts.

The economical uses of products from mangrove ecosystems are many and varied. Traditionally, the mangroves have been exploited for firewood and charcoal. Use has also been found for mangroves in the construction of dwellings, furniture, boats and fishing gear, tannins for dyeing and leather production. The mangroves provide food and wide variety of traditional products and artefacts for the mangrove dwellers. Extracts and chemicals from mangroves are used mainly in folkloric medicine (e.g. bush medicine), as insecticides and piscicides https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009988607044

Plant Life in the Mangroves

Mangrooves taking root among the roots

These flowering plants grow in the intertidal zone between the low and high water marks. They live in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and have to survive in saltwater, with freshwater runoff, waterlogged soils and dry conditions at low tide. Mangroves can grow only in more sheltered places, such as in estuaries and along creeks where there are freshwater seeps, and where mud and silt hold nutrients.

Remarkably, unrelated species of mangroves have very similar adaptations. Most mangroves have pneumatophores, ‘breathing’ or aerial roots that absorb oxygen directly from the air, because they usually grow in waterlogged mud with low oxygen levels. To deal with the high salt environment, mangroves either prevent salt from entering their roots, or remove it using glands on their leaves. For example, the under side of the leaves of the common grey mangrove, Avicennia, have small deposits of salt. https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/microsites/mangrove/mangroves.asp

Aerial roots hang from the top of the mangrove

Reproduction is difficult for mangroves because they grow in shifting mud. Some mangroves produce seeds and fruit that float and disperse away from the parent tree. Others have seeds that germinate in the fruit, so the seedling first develops attached to the parent, later to anchor and grow in the mud.

seedlings grow in the mud

Mangrove forests and woodlands are some of the most productive coastal ecosystems. They contain many microhabitats where a variety of crabs, snails and other molluscs live. Mangrove animals often have an exoskeleton or shell that prevents them drying out at low tide. Some, such as crabs, sift through the mud feeding on detritus, or decaying plant matter. Other animals feed directly on algae or mangrove leaves and seedlings. Juveniles of fish species such as the commercially important Sea Mullet swim from the open seas to develop in the mangroves. Very few terrestrial vertebrates live or feed in the mangroves, so the Water Mouse is a notable exception.

False Water Rat…Xeromys myoides

marine mouse or yirrkoo (Indigenous)

Although the Water Mouse was once called the False Water Rat, there is not much that is rat-like about this animal. Its name, Xeromys, means ‘dry’ because it lacks adaptations for swimming. While it can swim, its hind feet do not have the webbing of true aquatic rats. The Water Mouse is a small, dark grey mouse with white fur on its belly and spots on its back, and has small eyes. It lives in the mangroves and coastal wetlands of Queensland and the Northern Territory where it feeds on animals found in the mangroves at low tide. Semi-aquatic, it often sits in mangrove puddles, its water-repellent silky fur reducing the loss of body heat.

The Water Mouse lives in small scattered populations. It is nocturnal and is rarely seen, so no accurate count of numbers can be done. The animal’s mangrove and coastal wetland habitat has been extensively cleared and redeveloped, particularly in south-east Queensland, and the Water Mouse is now classified as a species vulnerable to extinction.

From 2000 to 2005, Queensland Museum scientists Dr Steve Van Dyck and Heather Janetzki studied some healthy Water Mouse populations living in mangroves near a canal estate development on the Gold Coast. Their mangrove habitat had been preserved, but by 2005 no Water Mice were being caught in live traps so the species was considered locally extinct. If there is a single cause of this extinction it is not yet known, but over time the scientists observed foxes, acid sulfate soils, spraying for mosquitoes, trampling of nests by cattle, and vehicles near the Water Mouse’s habitat.

Water Mouse, Xeromys myoides


Ooncooncoon Bay Russell Island

Sunrise Today...

Russell Island in Redland City is the biggest of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands, situated between the mainland and North Stradbroke Island. The island is eight kilometres long (north-to-south) and nearly three kilometres wide. The channel separating it from the mainland is known as Main Channel and the channel separating it from North Stradbroke Island is known as Canaipa Passage. The Bay between Russell Island, Lamb Island and North Stradbroke Island was named Ooncooncoon Bay..the Bay of Swans

Ooncooncoon Bay Russell Island

The geological origin of these islands is shared with the Redland Peninsula: all have the characteristic fertile red soil which enabled the peninsula to be the market garden for Brisbane. Overlain on parts of the island’s red soil are more recent sediments, chiefly sand and mud from the mainland river deltas.

The middle of Russell Island contains Turtle Swamp, mainly heath land, and the southern part…

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Goompi Trail on Stradbroke Island


Dunwich township – Goompie

The Dunwich area was called Goompee or Coompee, from a word meaning pearl oyster. It has always been home to a sizeable indigenous population, as well as a seasonal visiting place for tribes from other areas. For the past 180 years it has also been the site of various European settlements, including a military/stores depot and convict outstation (1827-1831), a Catholic mission (1843-1846), quarantine station (1850-1864) and benevolent asylum (1866-1946).

In typical 19th-20th century fashion, many structures on the island were recycled. The stores depot buildings were re-used by the Catholic mission, and the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum structures that remained on the island when the asylum moved to Sandgate in 1946 have assumed new uses and can be found scattered around Dunwich and elsewhere on the island.


We had a talk and walk with Matt who explained the tools and their uses..


Rope and threads were made from the Fig tree, and also the Cottonwood tree. The leaves were also used in cooking and the flowers are edible


Fish traps caught the fish at high tide, and fishermen were able to catch the fish at low tide. Various leaves were wrapped around the fish before they were cooked. This area also has crabs and shellfish which were cooked or eaten raw.

Image result for Aboriginal fish traps Stradbroke Island

Many different fishing methods were used. These included multi-pronged spears, a range of nets, stone fish traps and brush weirs. Further north and to the south people used fish hooks. Poisons were used to stun fish in pools or traps where they could be easily caught. For example, the tape vine (Stephania japonica), called nyannum was used as a fish poison throughout the territory of the Yugambeh people of the Gold Coast.

Fish hooks were made from shell and bone and fishing lines were made from a variety of fibres. Bark and dugout canoes were used in turtle and dugong hunting.


The red rocks are iron based, and when rubbed together create the red ochre that was used for traditional paintings, decoration and also as body paint for ceremonial purposes. White ochre was dug up, and there is also yellow ochre. These rocks are much prized and valued by artists as they create a strong durable paint.


Very Old and ancient trees line the shoreline at Dunwich. These trees provided bark, branches for tools and weapons, rope, medicines and also utensils and food.


Plants provided nutrients and were gathered by women and treated before use. The Pandamus had to be soaked to remove poisons before it was ground and used as food and many of the leaves were ground to a paste and eaten and seafood was the main food as this area is rich in sea life.


Curlews on Lamb Island

Curlews on the shores…

Sunrise Today...



The bush curlew who live at Lamb island seem to defy some of the descriptions I am reading online when looking for information to add here.

They may feed at night but they wander around all day and are always happy to come and eat scraps of meat or bread if it is offered. In fact they get accustomed to being fed and stand out there screaming until I appear and either feed them, or acknowledge their presence and go back inside.


They may live in the bush but the curlews at my place live under the house, had had their eggs under the house, and have lived under the house for as long as the neighbors have lived here, which is a very long time. When the young hatch, they wander around with the parents until the next mating time, when the young bird gets in the way…

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Morning with the Mangroves at The Point

Morning on the Point with the Mangroves

Sunrise Today...


The Point at low tide is rich with mangroves. This is a protected Nature Reserve and Sanctuary as these waters have dugong,  crabs, sea turtles and many species of fish and molluscs, as well as the mangroves.  The shoreline has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. It was just mud, but now has been washed back to rocks with periodical shore drops during rains and heavy tides, and the mangroves stand splendid like a medieval forest of mystery at Low tide.

The mangroves have been here for many years. Some are very old indeed. The roots are exposed at low tide and so are the trees, which at high tide are submerged in the water.

High tide Mangroves

This was taken at High tide on the 17th December. The other mangroves were from the low tide this morning..the 18th of December 2012


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