Politicians announce plans to rescue our turtles, dugongs
BOTH major political parties have jumped on the “save the dugong” boat, with pledges over the past week to eradicate poaching of the endangered marine mammals from indigenous hunters.
The Labor party hopes to bring indigenous hunters on board through a complex system of carrots and sticks, while the LNP said it would set aside $1.6 million for indigenous rangers to enforce existing rules.
The Coalition policy, announced by environment spokesman Greg Hunt in Cairns last week, includes a further $1 million to clear “ghost nets” from the waters of the marine park.
“We’ll implement this within our first 100 days in government,” LNP candidate for Leichhardt Warren Entsch told the Gazette.
“We need rules and regulations, and we need indigenous rangers out there.”
Referring to the recent discovery of a gravid female turtle at the Lockhart River tip, Mr Entsch said female turtles should be off-limits.
The Federal Government, however, has been working through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority since February to shepherd traditional owners towards agreeing on a set of sea rules, which they would then have a hand in overseeing. Once TO groups sign up to the framework agreement, they will receive access to funding for rangers, scientific research programs and other activities.
At present, GBRMPA is holding its cards close to its chest, insisting the program is not yet ready to launch publicly.
However, traditional owners involved in negotiations say the program is picking up steam, aided by a sea-change in attitude among indigenous hunters.
Dale Mundraby is operations manager with the North Queensland Land Council and has been leading negotiations with the Department of Environment and Resource Management and GBRMPA.
The NQLC is representing the local eastern Kuku Yalanji traditional owners in the negotiations, and is leading the process on behalf of other TO groups on the eastern Queensland seaboard.
The NQLC has convened a TO steering committee to develop a sea country management plan.
“We hope to have a draft sea country plan by the end of the year, which the TOs will certify,” Mr Mundraby said.
“Once that gets approved by DERM and GBRMPA, it will be the basis of our implementation plan.”
The overarching plans the TOs agree to will include marine resource management plans known as TUMRAs.
The overall aim of the GBRMPA plan is to bring traditional owners and other groups closer together while stiffening the enforcement of current rules on traditional hunting. As well as providing training for sea rangers, GBRMPA has promised to strengthen collaboration between TOs and scientists.
Although there is some ad hoc collaboration between TOs and scientists in turtle monitoring, there has been no systematic attempt to ”bridge the gap between cultural resource management and scientific knowledge,” as Mr Mundraby sees the new program.
“We need to emphasise the collaborative framework,” Mr Mundraby said. “We need partnerships, not just a grant. We also need relationships with our neighbours, not just with the Government.”
Clive Murray, a TO from Yarrabah, is on the Cairns Regional Council’s indigenous affairs advisory board and the NQLC advisory committee. He believes Queensland is a long way behind other parts of the country, particularly the Northern Territory, in looking after sea country.
“We’ve got to stop this slaughter,” Mr Murray said.
“We can go to the butcher’s shop now and buy meat. We’ve got cowboy hunters going out at weekends, coming home with nine turtles at a time. The ocean can’t sustain this.”
However, TOs insist the key to putting hunting on a sustainable footing is to ensure programs are ongoing, rather than one-off.
“Ongoing employment is critical,” Mr Murray said. “That’s what we spelled out to GBRMPA. Put those idle hands to work.”
At present, GBRMPA is not promising funds to match the LNP pledge.
It is still unclear if the TUMRA process will involve the Cape York Land Council, which represents Snapper Island’s senior traditional owner David Solomon. Mr Solomon was unaware of the program when contacted by the Gazette last week.
“If that’s happening, it would be a good start,” Mr Solomon said.
Mr Solomon has been outspoken in demanding a moratorium on all turtle hunting in local waters, to complement a self-imposed ban on hunting dugongs which has been largely respected by Kuku Yalanji hunters for several years.
“GBRMPA is providing an extensive compliance training program to support traditional owners and indigenous communities with the knowledge and skills to report suspected incidents of illegal take,” a GBRMPA spokesperson said.
Dugong numbers in the Queensland waters are estimated to be at three per cent of 1960 levels.
They have been decimated by a range of practices, including big-boat trawling which destroyed their preferred habitat of sea-grass beds, entanglement in fishing nets, boat strikes and unsustainable hunting practices.
Save the dugongs: this sea cow found dead off Cape Kimberley last year might have been saved if a sea ranger program was in place