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 with young Hope Vale boys and men. Chris Roberts, from Balkanu, set up the session and began talking about the international view of these animals and looking at the current Australian laws and regulations, that aim to look after them within Australia. Before starting, the day's participants were asked to list the threats to dugong and turtle. 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 all 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 the processes for setting them up. Hope Vale actually had a Sea Country plan, developed by all the clan groups of Hope Vale a number of years ago. This has never been 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.'

From- http://www.nailsma.org.au/nailsma/downloads/Dugong%20and%20marine%20turtle%20handbook_Part3.pdf

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

Chris shared ideas from the broader Pacific region that have helped 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 too, so our Pelican cook Michelle made a peanut butter and chocolate cake. We all sang a Happy Birthday to a boy who was very happy to be having it on board Pelican. 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 while 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. 


AuthorMichelle Quach