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Issue #1632      March 26, 2014

Fighting to protect reef

Birri Gubba Juru Elder Jim Gaston remembers the humble beginnings of turtle monitoring in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. “It started with just the two of us – me and the missus – and for 12 years we funded it out of our own pockets,” he said.

“Now we have scientific research, animal ethics and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority permits and about 30 people helping.

“We’ve tagged and measured 1,100 turtles and sent the information back to the Queensland Government.

“I just want to make sure our grandchildren and the next generation will have turtles to observe and monitor.

“I am very concerned about the industrialisation of the reef.”

Mr Gaston is a board member of the Gudjuda Reference Group, one of five traditional owner organisations representing saltwater people from Bundaberg to Cooktown that met in Townsville this month for talks about the reef.

Two of the organisations – the Gudjuda Reference Group and the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation – have been working in partnership with World Wildlife Fund-Australia (WWF) to protect the reef since signing memorandums of understanding in 2009 and 2010.

They were joined by the Wulgurukaba people, the Yuku Baja Muliku people, and the Gidarjil Aboriginal Corporation.

The gathering was held at Reef HQ Aquarium and brought together saltwater people whose sea country covers nearly three-quarters of the reef to discuss increasing concerns for this natural wonder of the world.

“Saltwater people have a connection to the reef built up over many thousands of years and it’s crucial that they are more involved in its protection,” WWF national manager for Indigenous partnerships Darren Grover said.

WWF-Australia works with saltwater people to source sponsorship and funding so that traditional owners can patrol their sea country with a particular focus on monitoring water quality, turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins.

Gudjuda Reference Group chair Eddie Smallwood said much had been achieved since 2009.

“We now have five Indigenous land and sea rangers and we’ve done a lot of research into the turtle (illness) in partnership with James Cook University and Queensland Government researchers,” he said.

“With the increasing industrialisation of the reef we need to make sure we have the resources to monitor seagrass and water quality and check for impacts on turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins.”

WWF conservation on country policy manager Cliff Cobbo said there was no denying that the Reef was in trouble

“Indigenous people want a stronger role in protecting and rescuing the reef and its creatures and that’s what this meeting is all about,” he told the Koori Mail.

Mr Cobbo said members of the groups which attended emphasised how important it was for them to be actively involved in looking after their sea country.

“The most important outcome was one of partnership and collaboration,” he said.

“All groups recognised that by working together on a united front their aspirations and needs would be heard.

“Sea country rangers was high on the list as was building the capacity of communities and organisations to better equip themselves in sea country management.

“The Indigenous voice needs to be heard in the debate about the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Many groups want their own sea country plans and the relevant resources to implement them.

“The groups will now go back to their communities and discuss an appropriate way forward.”

Dorothy Savage said protecting the reef was an important issue for everybody.

“It was vital that these groups came together as the marine park is vital for the survival of our people,” she said.

“It has been a source of food and we are concerned about oil spills and turtles being hit by propellers.”

Koori Mail

Next article – WA Senate re-run election campaign

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