Bridging Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge for Threatened Species Conservation

Bridging Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge for Threatened Species Conservation

Tropical Ecosystems Hub researchers are working in collaboration with Girringun Aboriginal Rangers to increase current knowledge of the distribution, habitat associations and potential threats to inshore dolphins and dugong.

This collaboration has arisen due from a desire to record existing Indigenous knowledge of these threatened species and to integrate this with contemporary scientific knowledge.

The collaboration involves the team from Project 1.2: Marine wildlife management in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area training rangers in contemporary scientific survey methods for broad scale comparison across northern Australia where other Indigenous ranger groups are actively looking for inshore dolphins, dugongs and other marine wildlife using similar methods.

Girringun Aboriginal Rangers are now independently monitoring their sea country for inshore dolphins and dugongs. In the most recent survey, the rangers and JCU researcher Dr. Helen Penrose retraced established transects in Missionary Bay, Hinchinbrook Island.

Bandjin clan (Hinchinbrook Island) Traditional Owner, Russell Butler, says the language name of Missionary Bay is Muramalee, or ‘place of the rainbow’, and Hinchinbrook Island is called Munamudanamy. “Muramalee is a very important feeding habitat for dugong and dolphins since Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Herds of several hundred dugong were sighted during November 2013”, he said.

The survey recorded the location and behaviour of pods of humpback dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and individual sightings of dugongs and turtles. However, snubfin dolphins remained elusive. Interestingly, there have been very few snubfin dolphin sightings compared with past surveys and knowledge shared by Girringun Traditional Owners and rangers.

Data collected by the Girringun rangers during these regular, independent sea patrols has proved very important as re-capture data now exists via the photo identification of dorsal fins. Photo identification will continue to be used to investigate dolphin abundance and movements in Girringun sea country.

On a regional scale, it is hoped that the results of this collaboration will contribute to a national assessment of the status of the Australian snubfin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. On a local scale, the dugong and dolphin data feeds directly into Girringun sea country planning and management, including Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreements.

JCU survey leader, Isabelle Beasley, acknowledges the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, Girringun Traditional Owners, Girringun TUMRA Coordinator (Cheryl Grant) and the Girringun Aboriginal Rangers for their continued support of this project.



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