Teacher background information
Year 5 Science Content Description
Science as a Human Endeavour
Use and influence of scienceScientific knowledge is used to solve problems and inform personal and community decisions (ACSHE083 - Scootle )
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have accumulated sophisticated ecological and zoological knowledge about culturally important key species, including life cycles, organism longevity, mating systems, and diets. This knowledge and understanding about organisms and their life cycle requirements is applied to the careful selection of organisms when they are harvested. Over millennia, in every aspect of life, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have considered the impact of their practices on the environment to ensure that the growth, regeneration and reproductive cycles of organisms are not interrupted. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to understand how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ ecological and zoological knowledge of particular species, such as dugongs and turtles, informs sustainable harvesting practices to protect the species from endangerment and provide continued access to culturally important species. Students will have the opportunity to learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ scientific knowledges, that have long ensured the continuous population growth of these species, are now critical in the co-development of conservation practices.
The cultural practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have sustainably managed the coastal waters of Australia for thousands of years. Traditional ecological knowledge considers the impact of community practices on the environment to ensure that the organism populations within the ecosystems are not detrimentally affected. Organisms are purposefully harvested at specific times in their lifecycle, drawing on knowledge about population density and dynamics, to ensure the long-term survival of the species and its dependent organisms. Dugongs and turtles are culturally important species for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Careful and controlled dugong and turtle harvesting practices are undertaken according to cultural laws and protocols and this system informs community decisions regarding take (acquisition). Sustainability of these species, now affected by a multitude of contemporary issues, requires consultation and co-development of programs that incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ scientific knowledges, co-management and cultural perspectives.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples use zoological knowledge pertaining to dugongs and turtles such as animal size, sex, egg clutch size, nesting frequency, and species maturation to inform harvesting practices. Ecological knowledge built over millennia includes the location of animal habitats, food sources of the species, seasonal patterns of movement, and nesting and breeding locations. This essential scientific knowledge, that is well understood by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, safeguards the habitats of species thereby ensuring that species are protected. For many thousands of years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have implemented carefully considered protocols for harvesting these marine species, informed by the zoological and ecological knowledge of the organisms and ecosystem.
The Kaurareg Peoples of the lower Western Islands of the Torres Strait developed a collaborative approach with the Traditional Owners of surrounding Islands and all levels of government, for sustainable harvesting of turtles and dugongs. This not only ensures conservation of species, but also safeguards the continuation of important cultural practices associated with these organisms. Such an approach is informed by the long held scientific knowledges of the behaviours and habitats of these species and aims to incorporate such practices with contemporary management strategies. Only a certain quota of dugongs and turtles can be harvested to maintain population numbers; Peoples of some of the Western Torres Strait Islands keep the skull bones of dugong and turtle to monitor the number of animals being harvested in a season. Small dugongs, mother and calf or pregnant dugongs, are not permitted to be hunted and it requires zoological expertise to identify and safeguard these animals so that only suitable animals are harvested. Experienced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ecologists have the skill to determine how many times a dugong has bred by the length and size of the female’s teats. The practice of harvesting turtle eggs is also limited to a specific quota and requires ecological knowledge to identify the beaches where turtles return to lay eggs and the time within the season that the eggs can be harvested. Such long held zoological and ecological knowledges have ensured sustainable population numbers of dugongs and turtles for thousands of years.
The declining populations of dugongs and turtles is a recent occurrence. Middens demonstrate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have harvested dugongs and turtles for millennia. Sustainable harvesting practices that are informed by the zoological and ecological knowledges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have ensured population stability. Recent research pertaining to dugong and turtle populations has confirmed that traditional hunting rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are not responsible for recent population declines, rather these species are being impacted on by contemporary issues, such as climate change affecting native habitats, marine debris including ghost (fishing) nets, pollution, commercial fishing, feral animals that destroy turtle nests, and strikes from marine vessels. These contemporary issues are more predominant in areas of higher human presence and activity. For example, dugong populations extend from the lands of the Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta Peoples in the Shark Bay area of Western Australia along the northern and eastern coastlines to Quandamooka Country in the Moreton Bay region of southeast Queensland. The minimal contemporary pressures on dugong populations in the Shark Bay region have made this population the safest dugong population in the world, while the dugong populations in the Great Barrier Reef region of northern Queensland face many threats, such as shark nets and tourist boats, that are endangering these populations.
Currently, programs to collect data are designed to monitor and record changes in the populations of these important Australian marine species. These programs acknowledge that the zoological and ecological knowledges of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples developed over thousands of years are integral to the successful design, implementation and management of these programs. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ management of marine species has developed over thousands of years and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples wish to maintain responsibility in managing marine resources to ensure continued cultural connections and sustainable use. Successful programs conduct conservation, management and research activities for marine animals in areas of coastal Australia in collaboration and consultation with the Traditional Owners of those regions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ long held knowledges can inform seasonal patterns of movement, feeding sites, knowledge of nesting beaches, population distribution, sexing of adult animals, and capture techniques.
Effective monitoring and research practices are those co-developed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ecologists who have informed, and continue to inform, sustainable use and conservation of marine species. In Western Australia contemporary population monitoring of dugongs and turtles has involved aerial surveys for dugongs and beach surveys for turtles. However, the success of these strategies has been limited by a number of factors, including Aboriginal engagement and ownership in the monitoring programs. Consultation between the research organisation and the Dambimangari community, the Traditional Owners of the north west Kimberley region, led to a trial program in 2012 which monitored both species using boat-based survey methods on the advice of the Dambimangari rangers and community members. The outcomes of the boat-based survey yielded robust scientific data on the distribution and abundance of turtles and dugongs in the area and incorporated many environmental variables. Aboriginal ownership of the process, outputs and outcomes, enables decision making to be a collaborative process between the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community and research or government organisations, for the mutual benefit of environmental conservation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ecologists are crucial in the implementation of policies and agreements, ensuring the monitoring and research activities are administered in their Country/Place in close association with the cultural protocols and laws of the local community.
This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ scientific knowledges have ensured population stability of important species for millennia. The extensive zoological and ecological knowledges relating to specific species such as turtle and dugong that have been developed over many thousands of years are crucial in the development of contemporary scientific monitoring and conservation practices. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to investigate how the harvesting strategies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long ensured, and today continue to ensure, sustainability of species, of environment, and of cultural rights and obligations. The co-management and continued research into turtles and dugongs by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are empowering these communities and directly informing personal and community harvesting decisions.
In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:
Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.
I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.
The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.
Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy. (2005). Sustainable harvest of marine turtles and dugongs in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/sustainable-harvest-marine-turtles-and-dugongs-australia-2005
Bradley, J. & Yanyuwa Families. (2007). Barni-Wardimantha Awara Yanyuwa Sea Country Plan. Atherton: Mabunji Aboriginal Resource Association.
Butler, J. R. A., Tawake, A., Skewes, T., Tawake, L., & McGrath, V. (2012). Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and fisheries management in the Torres Strait, Australia: The catalytic role of turtles and dugong as cultural keystone species. Ecology and Society, 17(4), 34. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-05165-170434
Dias, A. (2018, February 14). Rangers from NT Aboriginal communities want to stop unsustainable turtle hunting. ABC Radio. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/turtles-rangers-sustainable-hunting-traditional-borroloola/9443202
Hedge, P. (Ed.). (2017). Australian Marine Sciences Association Indigenous engagement workshop summary: Report to the National Environmental Science Programme, Marine Biodiversity Hub. 2017 Australian Marine Sciences Association Indigenous Engagement Workshop Working Group. Retrieved from https://www.nespmarine.edu.au/system/files/Summary%202017%20AMSA%20Indig%20Engt%20Wshop_Final_10Nov17.pdf
Indigenous managers for dugong and turtle harvests. (2004, November-December). Ecos Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.ecosmagazine.com/?act=view_file&file_id=EC122p5.pdf
Jackson, M. V., Kennett, R., Bayliss, P., Warren, R., Waina, N., Adams, J., … Weisenberger, F. (2015). Developing collaborative marine turtle monitoring in the Kimberley region of northern Australia. Ecological Management and Restoration, 16(3), 163-176. https://doi.org/10.1111/emr.12184
Kaurareg Traditional Owners and Torres Strait Regional Authority, Land and Sea Management Unit. (2008). KAIWALAGAU DANGHALAW A WARUW YA WATHAN Kaiwalagal Dugong and Turtle Management Plan. Retrieved from https://www.sprep.org/att/IRC/eCOPIES/Countries/australia/2.pdf
Manitoba Education and Training. (2000). Education for a sustainable future: A resource for curriculum developers, teachers, and administrators. Retrieved from https://digitalcollection.gov.mb.ca/awweb/pdfopener?smd=1&did=10724&md=1
Marsh, H. (2013, May 10). Dugongs are safer in Torres Strait than Townsville. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/dugongs-are-safer-in-torres-strait-than-townsville-13552
Marsh, H., & Hamann, M. (2016, December 6). Traditional hunting gets headlines, but is not the big threat to turtles and dugongs. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/traditional-hunting-gets-headlines-but-is-not-the-big-threat-to-turtles-and-dugongs-69038
The Australian Research Institute for Environment and Sustainability. (2010). Teaching the Indigenous concepts of Country and sustainability. Retrieved from http://aries.mq.edu.au/projects/deewr_indigenous_concepts/index.php
Torres Strait Regional Authority, Land and Sea Management Unit. (2009). Dugong and marine turtle teaching resource and information package. Darwin: North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance’s Dugong and Turtle Project.
Woodward, E., Jackson, S., Finn, M., & McTaggart, P. M. (2012). Utilising Indigenous seasonal knowledge to understand aquatic resource use and inform water resource management in northern Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 13(1), 58-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00622.x