Sustainability of Turtle and Dugong
Dugong (Dugong Dugon) and Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) have been hunted sustainably by the Traditional Owners of Cape York for thousands of years. However recently, populations have suffered global declines and are currently protected as a listed in Queensland waters under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. In the modern world, turtle and dugong are subjected to new and increasingly dangerous threats, including boat strikes, habitat loss, disease, reproductive failure, ghost nets, climate change, invasive animals and marine debris. These, and many more impacts caused by lifestyle choices of Australians, add to the natural pressure placed on the animals.
For many Traditional Owners on Cape York, turtle and dugong are a significant aspect of their culture and a traditional source of sustenance. Traditional Owners have a cultural responsibility to manage the impacts of human activity on land and sea, and the animals in those environments, in a way that maintains the well-being of humans, animals, land and sea. It is important for turtle and dugong populations to be sustainable and protected for future generations.
In September 2011, a group of senior Traditional Owners from Cape York came together in Cairns to discuss turtle, dugong, culture and identity. The group believed there was willingness in their communities to step up and address their impacts on these species. The group wrote to Tony Burke, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. The State and the Federal Governments agreed to invest in a workshop to work towards addressing this issue.
This workshop, held in November 2011, led to the development of the Cape York Peninsula Turtle and Dugong Strategy and a process to establish the Cape York Turtle and Dugong Taskforce of Traditional Owners (the Taskforce), which would guide and implement the strategy. In February 2012 the Queensland and Federal Governments committed to the finalisation of the Strategy. Further funding was agreed in-principle, once the strategy was committed and Taskforce was established, to enable implementation of the Strategy to June 2013 in conjunction with Balkanu Cape York development Corporation.
The Cape York Turtle and Dugong Taskforce
The Taskforce supported by Balkanu, developed the Turtle and Dugong Regional Plan which provides an overarching consensus and policy position for management of hunting and other anthropogenic impacts on turtle and dugong in a culturally sensitive and community participatory manner. In this process, the Taskforce has engaged with external stakeholders including James Cook University; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs; the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; and the Department of Environmental Heritage and Protection.
Community Turtle and Dugong Management
The development of local turtle and dugong management plans, has been a priority for the Taskforce. To date, 10 communities covering 26 clan groups have developed these plans, including Mapoon; Juunjuwarra, Ambiil, Bagaarmugu, Hopevale Congress, Lockhart River, North Yalanji, Apudthama, Aurukun, Napranum, Pul Pul and Umpila. These plans encompass sustainable management through closure and quotas and detail the regulatory system required as well as implementation plans to put it in motion. The development of local turtle and dugong management plans by Traditional Owners has built on and contributed to the existing capacity and capability of groups already working on sea country management. In addition, the development of the plans has enabled capacity building and support to be given to groups who were not presently engaged with sea country management.
Raine Island is the largest remaining green turtle rookery in the world and a major seabird nesting site. 90% of all northern Great Barrier Reef turtles nest in the area, however, nesting success is dramatically low and adult nesting mortality levels at an extreme high. As a result, population levels are expected to decline drastically within 10 years. This is of significant concern to the taskforce and Traditional owners and so a significant investment has been made for steps towards its rehabilitation: $20,000 has been spent for Raine Island scoping trip for Traditional Owners, $15,000 for Traditional owners meeting on Horn Island, and $30,000 has been spent for the Raine Island Stakeholder forum, held in Cairns on 15th May, 2013 and $22,000 has been invested in equipment for monitoring.
Reinstatement of Traditional Authority
This is a key component of the Cape York Peninsula Turtle and Dugong Strategy. At the request of the Taskforce, a full analysis of the current legislative frameworks that preserve the rights of indigenous people to hunt turtle and dugong has been undertaken along with the legislative frameworks that provide protection to turtle and dugong at both state and national levels. From that analysis, a synopsis of the current legal situation, legal options and recommendations for modifying existing legislative frameworks to implement sea country management plans. The options and recommendations are provided in the context of using legal mechanisms to strengthen and reinstate traditional authority for managing turtle and dugong.
Cape York Turtle and Dugong Strategy Implementation
The following highlights have been achieved by this group effort:
• 5 taskforce meetings, 4 Hunters meetings
• 50-60+ community consultation meetings across the Cape
• 2950 paid hours of taskforce work in community
• 12 grants submitted on behalf of community
• 6 Meetings with GBRMPA on compliance and enforcement
• Raine Island Traditional Owners meeting and Stakeholder forum
• Equipment purchases of turtle rehab and website development
• Development of a fundraising strategy for Cape York
• Financially supporting the Western Cape Ranger meeting
• Mapoon turtle camp design and negotiations for land tenure security
• Traditional Owners Raine Island trip
• Financial support for Aurukun pig abatement and turtle nesting site protection
What can you do to protect turtle and dugong?
There are a number of things that you can do to help protect turtle and dugong:
• Slow down in boats over sea grass beds and where you know dugong are swimming
• Don’t get too close to a turtle on the beach when she is laying eggs
• Do not anchor over sea grass beds
• Keep rubbish out of waterways, especially plastic and plastic bags
• Do not throw chemicals or petrol in the water
• Avoid shining lights onto beaches when turtle hatchlings are coming out of nests
• Avoid using nets to catch animals
• Keep animals off the beach when turtles are nesting
For more information contact Balkanu at firstname.lastname@example.org or (07) 4019 6200