Teacher background information


Year 9 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Use and influence of science

Values and needs of contemporary society can influence the focus of scientific research (ACSHE228 - Scootle )

  • researching how Torres Strait Islander Peoples are at the forefront of the development of scientific measures to prevent the transfer of certain infectious diseases and pests to the Australian continent (OI.9)

This elaboration provides opportunities to learn about the role of Torres Strait Islander communities in protecting Australia from introduced pests, weeds and diseases. Given the geographical position of the Torres Strait Islands to the north of Australia, and their proximity to other nations, it is a crucial zone in which to identify and address potential threats to Australia’s biosecurity. Students learn how Torres Strait Islander communities work collaboratively with research organisations and government agencies to conduct scientific investigations about the ecology of various pests, diseases and weeds, possible arrival pathways and methods of spreading, and how they conduct surveillance, quarantine and monitoring activities designed to minimise these potential threats.

Northern Australia is vast and remote, and with more than 10,000 km of coastline, inlets and islands, it is at serious risk of pest, weed and disease incursions from countries to the north. The proximity of the Torres Strait Islands to Australia's near northern neighbours, such as Papua New Guinea, is one of the region's primary biosecurity concerns. Just under 5 km separates the Torres Straits northern-most island, Saibai, from the Papua New Guinea coastline. 

There are numerous ways in which pests, weeds, and diseases can reach the mainland via the Torres Strait, including natural pathways, such as wind and tide movements and animal migrations, as well as human-assisted ship and aircraft pathways and their associated passenger and cargo movements. 

Since European colonisation more than two hundred years ago, Australia has experienced a significant increase in introduced pests, weeds and diseases that were previously unknown to the continent, and many of these have had devastating impacts on the environment and its ecosystems, including human populations 

Rabbits, cane toads and lantana are among the better-known species that have been introduced into Australia. Diseases like smallpox have largely been eradicated, while others continue to provide significant challenges to scientists and communities working to eliminate them. One such disease is Japanese Encephalitis (JE), which is carried by mosquitoes, and was identified on Badu Island in the Torres Strait in 1995. A serological study conducted during the outbreak established the distribution of virus infection and identified domestic pigs as a contributing risk factor to human infection. In response to this threat, local communities now utilise sentinel pigs (a potential amplification host) to monitor for the emergence of the JE virus. Other exotic pests and diseases of major concern to Australia include the screw worm fly, Asian tiger mosquito, papaya fruit fly, Zika virus disease, malaria, hand-foot-mouth, rabies and swine fever.   

Since 1989, the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) has worked in collaboration with State and Federal Governments, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and other relevant stakeholders, to provide an early warning system for exotic pest, weed and disease detection across northern Australia and to help address the unique biosecurity risks facing the region. These activities rely heavily on local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working with scientists and government agencies, and have created several key employment opportunities for local communities and individuals. Given the traditional ongoing movements among the Torres Strait Islands, other areas of Queensland and also Papua New Guinea, it is essential that these programs work closely within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to monitor and detect potential threats.  

The NAQS engages in a number of targeted initiatives to address the potential threats from pests, weeds and diseases: 

  • surveillance of animal and plant health, targeting pests, diseases and weeds in coastal areas across northern Australia 
  • biosecurity operations to address risks associated with movements of people, cargo, aircraft and vessels into and between defined biosecurity zones in the Torres Strait, and from these zones to mainland Australia 
  • public awareness and education activities 
  • collaborations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and State and Territory agencies  
  • surveillance and monitoring activities in neighbouring countries for early signs of targeted pests, diseases and weeds. 

By investigating how these threats have prompted scientific research and how they are currently being managed within the Torres Strait Islands, students have an opportunity to understand the important role local Indigenous people play in the development and maintenance of scientific measures to protect the biosecurity of Australia.

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.

ABC News. (2014, October 24). Barnaby Joyce commends biosecurity work being done in Indigenous and Torres Strait Island communities. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-10-24/barnaby-joyce-torres-strait-community/5836762

Bagot, C., Jepson, N., Eddie, J., & Simpson, M. (2012). Audit Report No.46 2011–12, Administration of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/g/files/net5496/f/201112 Audit Report No 46_0.pdf

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. (2014). Northern Australia quarantine strategy: 25 years of protecting Australia. Retrieved from http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/biosecurity/australia/naqs/naqs-25-years.pdf

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. (2017). Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. Retrieved from http://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity/australia/naqs

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agriculture and Indigenous Affairs. (2015, July 8). Minister Joyce: $12.4 million for Northern Australia’s Indigenous rangers [Media release]. Retrieved from https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/announcements/minister-joyce-%E2%80%8B124-million-northern-australia’s-indigenous-rangers

Hanna, J. H., Ritchie, S. A., Phillip, D. A., Shield, J., Mackenzie, J. S., Poidinger, M., . . . Mills, P. J. (1996). An outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in the Torres Strait, Australia, 1995. The Medical Journal of Australia, 165(5), 256-260.

McKillop, C. (2014, October 10). Cape York Peninsula's sentinel cattle herd keeps Australia free of exotic disease. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-10-10/sentinel-cattle-herd-keeping-australia-safe-from-disease/5804586

McKillop, C., (2014, October 15). Barnaby Joyce biosecurity: Border protection budget 'efficiencies' won't let in the boats, bugs or borers. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2014-10-15/boigu-island-biosecurity-frontline/5815530

Queensland Government. (2018). Torres Strait Regional Authority: Sustainable farming. Retrieved from https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/agriculture/sustainable-farming/nrm-torres-strait

Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, Department of the Senate. (2010). Biosecurity. In The Torres Strait: Bridge and Border.  Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/torresstrait/report/c11

Williams, D. T., Wang, L. F., Daniels, P. W., & Mackenzie, J. S. (2000). Molecular characterization of the first Australian isolate of Japanese encephalitis virus, the FU strain. Journal of General Virology. 81(10), 2471-2480. doi:10.1099/0022-1317-81-10-2471