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Marine turtle and dugong monitoring: Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country

Dugongs and marine turtles are species of great cultural and conservation value in north Australia. The region contains robust populations of these globally threatened species, but obtaining reliable population estimates and monitoring local populations of these migratory animals can be difficult, especially in remote conditions.

The Marine Turtle and Dugong Monitoring case study is an innovative research program involving the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), NAILSMA and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Funded through the Northern Australia Hub of the National Environmental Research Program (NERP), the project is drawing on extensive Indigenous Knowledge and state-of-the-art tools and technology to develop new ways to monitor marine turtles and dugongs along the remote northern coast of Australia.

The research program is developing tools that support scientifically robust, community-based biodiversity monitoring programs for the Indigenous rangers managing these culturally important species on their country. A key focus of the case study to date has been the development of a boat-based transect survey method that can be repeated in a rigorous way to monitor local turtle and dugong populations over time. This method builds on NAILSMA’s previous work developing turtle monitoring tools as part of the I-Tracker program. The case study also involves initial mapping and development of a cost-effective monitoring program for seagrass.

Outcomes from the case study include a methodology that will equip Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation’s Uunguu Rangers to conduct periodic standard surveys along the set line transects using a dedicated I-Tracker application to collect the survey data. Those data can then be analysed with support from NAILSMA and CSIRO. Alongside the data collected from the case study surveys, this growing body of data will identify and explore the seasonal and environmental factors that most influence turtle and dugong distribution and abundance, better equipping the local Traditional Owners to protect and manage these significant species. The new survey methods are helping WGAC to implement key parts of its Healthy Country Plan which is aimed at looking after marine turtles and dugong. The boat-based survey method can also be applied to the conservation of these animals in other areas, and has already been trialled with the Dambimangari Rangers (WA) and the Gumurr Marthakal Rangers (NT).

Find out more

Articles, publications and presentations

eNews: Indigenous rangers share results at Marine Turtle Symposium

Video: Marine turtle and dugong monitoring on Wunambal Gaambera country

Developing boat-based survey methods for dugong and marine turtles: Field trials at Montgomery Reef, WA, August 2012

Boat-based turtle and dugong monitoring

Indigenous rangers share knowledge about sea turtles

Links to other websites

NERP Northern Australia Hub project page