Thursday, September 29, 2011

Turtle and Dugong management- yarning up.


The Northern coasts of Australia are home to populations of the vulnerable Dugong   and a number of endangered and critically endangered turtle species such as the Green and Hawksbill turtles.

Our program on Pelican took us back out to the Turtle group of islands to anchor in the shelter of the islands and yarn up turtle and dugong management to young Hope Vale boys and men. Chris Roberts form Balkanu set up the session by talking about the international view of these animals and then looking at the current Australian laws and regulations, that aim to look after the sea country and animals within Australia. Before starting the day's participants were asked to list the threats to these animals. As they spoke young Mark Bowen created the picture above of the Dugong with all manner of threats including rockets!

The list of threats that they came up with were as follows:

Trawl nets

Gill nets

Purse sane nets

Boat strike

Pollution from the catchments (catchment health)

Sediment from erosion and cyclones destroying seagrass

Over hunting


Chris shared examples of Aboriginal management of Sea Country and some of the processes for setting them up. Hope Vale actually had a Sea Country plan set up a number of years ago, which was never activated due to cultural and political reasons.  

'• The preparation of a Dugong and Marine Turtle Management Plan by the Hopevale Aboriginal Community in 1999, which won the Prime Minister’s Environment Award in 2000124. This Plan has not been implemented consistently for several reasons, including: death of key elders and individuals, personnel changes at Hopevale and GBRMPA, lack of resources, and a federal ministerial decision in 2000 that prevented the managing agencies from issuing community hunting permits, even though such permits were a central part of the Plan125. Hopevale Community has collaborated over many years with researchers at James Cook University and staff of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) in relation to research and management of dugongs and turtles.'


Some of the general constraints to setting up Indigenous marine resource management include:

‘• Lack of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authority over local marine estates and marine resources;

Competition from commercial and recreational fishers and other marine resource stakeholders;

Declining knowledge of traditional management practices and protocols among some younger Indigenous people;

Changing social and economic conditions, including the relocation of coastal Indigenous groups to large communities, some of which are inland.'

Quote also from Nailsma handbook- link above.

 91Dugong and Marine Turtle Knowledge Handbook February 2005

 He talked about using ideas from the broader Pacific region to resolve some of the complex internal pressures involved in setting up Sea Country management plans. In particular using ideas from the Locally Managed Marine Protected Areas from Fiji and other Pacific islands.


 It happened to be Austin Bally's birthday, so our Pelican cook Michelle made a peanut butter and chocolate cake and we all sang a Happy Birthday who was very happy to be having it on board. Austin is pictured above holding a Dugong rib.


We managed to fit in some fishing during the day and had a Bristle worm clamber aboard who was trying to feast on the bait.


Dugong and turtle hunting is an important cultural activity for the Bama along this coastline and their Elders are as concerned, if not more so than the average person, at the potential threats to these animals. The recent announcement of more funds to support Indigenous groups in their ability to monitor and care for their own Sea Country is timely. But much more needs to be done to support communities who are also struggling with many other social issues. Traditional Owners need to be listened to and supported as well as being given the resources and training to enable Bama to keep caring for their own country, using traditional ecological knowledge and the latest scientific tools. 


Monday, September 26, 2011

Message in a bottle-Turtle Island group


We have had two day trips out to the Turtle Island group over the last few days. The group of either substantial coral cays or islands, lie about 14 nautical miles east of the Starke bush camp. On our first visit we landed on one of the outer islands. As we approached an Osprey came over and circled the boat. On later walks on the island we found a huge nest for the pair of Ospreys. Below is the image of the nest figured by the mass of twigs and angled away from the prevailing trade winds.


Anchoring can be quite an exiting moment for project participants. Pelican has to be maneuvered to maintain exactly the right position and the outer island provided a shelted spot (free of reef) to weigh anchor and go ashore.


The island has extensive mangroves (I think three varieties) and a dried hardy inland grass, threaded through with dodder -laurel; like a giant weaving.



On the eastern side of the island there were some stands of caurinas and on both sides evidence that this island cops a lot more weather than Pethebridge as it is further out from the mainland. The kids and Chris from Balkanu collected lots of tropical seeds as the island also picks up flotsom from further South. There was also heaps of pumice, from volcanic blasts in the Pacific and perhaps even dating from Krakatoa exploding!


We gathered lots of the shells and flotsom to undersatnd the story of the island and the sea country around it.


And listened to the stories the sea was whispering.

Pelican1 safely anchored offshore.

Mark and Sebastian with their show bag from the day


Sean, from Balkanu- found a bottle on the island with a message inside. Once we got on the boat we opened the bottle of jack daniels and unfolded the paper inside. I wonder if anyone can tell us who this is and why someone would put it in a bottle to be cast onto a remote Cape York island?


After a full day exploring we made the two hour sail back to the Starke camp and ferried our tired participants to shore.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Tales of trails, shells and endless curiosity.

On our journey from Cooktown to Starke river we passed browned-ribbony trails of algae (trichodesmium oscillatoria- if you really want to know). This is a seasonal phenomenon here but can be the result of higher nitrates (from run off) or high temperatures.


Sometimes their dried remains on land as seen here, can be confused with an oil spill, as I thought when I first encountered it. On the second day of the project we headed out to Pethebridge Islets with a large group of kids from the camp. Pethebridge is a short sail from the mainland and for such a small space, it holds a plethora of marine and land life. Perthebridge is either an island or perhaps a coral cay with a rather large tail that swishes in the direction of the prevailing winds and currents.


I could have called this post- the best classroom in the world. From my time with Pelican I am now a total believer in learning by being in the environment with people that can help guide the natural curiosity of the learner. It has also been fantastic to be able to have Chris Roberts from Balkanu on board, who is a marine biologist, share his extensive knowledge. 


The morning was spent exploring the island and beachcombing. Oh and fishing! [[posterous-content:pid___3]]


Hazel Bowen found a few things!

As we found things Chris was on hand to tell the kids what animals lived in the shells, or what the polyps on the seaweed were for, or how the cone shell kills its prey, or how the coral is an animal and how they make the coral form, and what the island was made of and how the cuttlefish can control its depth. It was an endless feast of interesting detours around the astounding ingenuity of nature and evolution.


Once back on Pelican1 the kids were shown how to identify some of the shells they had found and made drawings of them and wrote their names.

Through picking up leaves on the tail of the island we could tell there were three species of mangroves before we walked over and explored them. The groves of trees on the island were filled with many types of birds including the brilliant blue kingfisher.



By the end of the day my head was ringing with information. The kids all had a great day out and had heaps of fun learning. Hope Vale kids are in their element but with the added insights from Chris married to their own curiosity, everyone gained more knowledge about their sea country. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The lost and found language of reefs


We have been fortunate to meet many wonderful Elders during our time working with the Hope Vale community. Phylamena Naylor was on board with members of Hopevale Congress for our journey from Cooktown to Starke river, where the annual Hopevale/Pelican project is being run this year. The trip is the first day of the program involving Pelican.

Phylamena was recounting her time spent with an uncle along the coast we were travelling. She is a good Guugu Yimithirr speaker but she said her uncle knew the language names of all the reefs along this coastline. She expressed her sadness that she never thought to write it all down. He passed away quite a long time ago and she feared that all that knowledge was lost forever. 

A participant in this year's project, Chris Roberts from Balkanu, who I was talking to about the loss of language, said that " language is a code that links people to country". 

The found part in my blog title refers to a conversation I had today with Des Bowen, who is one of the key Elders, involved in this project (his wife Estelle being the other pillar). He told me that the name of the reef in language between the McIvor river and Guumbunie (Chronicle Rock) is burreeka (pronounced with a silent l- burreelka). I look forward to seeing Phylamena in the next days and sharing that parcel of knowledge. 


Brian Cobus (pictured on the left) is the chair of Hope Vale Congress. Both Brian and Phylamena were teaching me words in Guugu. As we were talking a black and yellow sea snake appeared and I learnt the Guugu term 'uurri' for sea snake.

Some of the sea country traversed as seen in the Pelican wheelhouse. And outside the wheelhouse...




Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Kitchen Garden

I made a new friend recently who made a throw away statement that has since stuck in my head. Something about intelligence being cultivated by the amount of time your hands are in contact with soil. If you dig soils, so to speak, here's a link to a recent program on Radio National's Science program about Soils, which is well worth a listen.

Anyway, on Wednesday mornings, I often volunteer at my daughter's school as part of their Kitchen Garden project. This project is part of the larger Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden foundation. which has now helped fund 191 programs in schools all around Australia.

Chook watch

The program is integrated into the school curriculum. The children in my daughter's Grade 3 class spend an hour working in the garden in the morning and then two hours in the kitchen, once a week. At the end of this process the volunteers, teachers and children join together to eat a magnificent feast.

Home made Ricotta and Silverbeet Ravioli with Sage and Butter sauce.

I am sure that when I look back over the year my moments in the garden and kitchen with the kids will be my highlights. It is absorbing to witness how much a child can learn within the parameters of Nature married with good education.