Mangroves in tropical and subtropical regions have been well documented in terms of the advantages they provide and their role in structuring ichthyofaunal assemblages, but little is known about their warm temperate counterparts. The study aimed to investigate the importance of warm temperate mangroves by comparing the abundance, diversity and distribution of small fishes in mangrove and non-mangrove estuaries in warm temperate South Africa. A 50×2 m (12-mm mesh) seine net was used over three summer seasons to sample small fishes in the Gonubie, Qora, Nahoon and Xhora estuaries (the latter two being mangrove estuaries). Fish abundance and diversity showed little variation among estuaries, despite the presence of mangroves. Estuaries in warm temperate areas are not only at the edge of mangrove distribution, but also offer alternative habitats which lend similar advantages to fish survival. It appears that warm temperate ichthyofauna have not yet evolved a dependence on mangrove systems in terms of the food, refuge and other ecological services they provide. Understanding the function of habitats and their value in enhancing fish survival in estuarine nursery areas is essential for fish conservation.