Politi­cians an­nounce plans to res­cue our tur­tles, dugongs

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - RICHARD KOSER

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

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