Marine species protection along the Queensland coastline looks set to improve after a partnership between WWF and Traditional Owners was signed last week.
Leaders from the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and the Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group represented 14 traditional owner groups set to work with World Wide Fund for Nature and James Cook University researchers to improve research and protection on threatened marine species.
Under the partnership, funding, training and services will be provided to Indigenous ranger groups, equipping them to research and stop illegal poaching of dugongs and protect the threatened turtles and inshore dolphins in the Great Barrier Reef area.
Girringun Aboriginal Corporation Executive Officer Phil Rist says this is the second partnership with WWF signifying the support WWF has for Aboriginal conservation issues in Queensland.
“They have been long term supporters of Aboriginal issues within Queensland and this makes a statement loud and clear that they are supportive of what we are doing,” Mr Rist said.
“I think we share some common interests there with WWF and this is an attempt to unite.”
The interests shared relate to the conservation and welfare of dugongs, dolphins and turtles in the area who are under threat due to the accumulated impacts of illegal poaching , increased shipping, poor water quality and by-catch issues.
“We are attempting at the moment to bring together the Indigenous voices because it is the one voice that is missing at the moment,” Mr Rist said.
“I think bringing the saltwater peoples together would really capitalise on the good work that is already being done at a regional level and a localised level.”
WWF CEO Dermot O’Gorman says the agreement will strengthen the great work already being done by Traditional Owners along the Queensland coastline.
“Traditional Owners have done an excellent job tackling issues such as illegal poaching in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park,” said O’Gorman.
“To properly solve this problem we need a coordinated network of Indigenous rangers that stretches across the length of the Great Barrier Reef.”
Traditional Owners in this area, or saltwater peoples, are connected to Great Barrier Reef through the traditions and cultures of their ancestors, highlighting how important the protection of the reef is for them.
“We not only have a connection to the reef but to the animals in there; the dugongs, the sharks the whales and all other creatures,” Mr Rist said.
This connection and knowledge of the reef is what WWF hopes to use in order to better the conservation and protection of marine species.
““Traditional peoples have accumulated vast amounts of ecological knowledge in their long history of managing the environment,” WWF’s O’Gorman said.
“This knowledge can be hugely beneficial for nature conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources worldwide, including in the Great Barrier Reef.”
“It is important that governments and NGOs fully respect Indigenous and traditional peoples’ human and development rights, and recognise the importance of the conservation of their cultures.”
Gudjuda Chairperson Eddie Smallwood says this collaboration will work to generate greater awareness in the younger generation of these traditional tribes.
“There is a great need to generate awareness in our communities about the protection and conservation of threatened marine species like turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins,” Mr Smallwood said.
“This will complement existing programs such as the turtle tagging work our rangers already do across Gudjuda sea country.”