Biodiversity assessments by research scientists are often logistically difficult and expensive to implement in remote areas. Locally-based approaches have the potential to overcome some of these challenges by capitalising on the knowledge and capacity of local people. Many Indigenous people in northern Australia are custodians of coastal areas that support globally significant populations of tropical marine mammals, including coastal dolphins and dugongs. The objective of our study was to design and implement a locally-based approach in a cross-cultural environment to assess the distribution of marine mammals in the remote waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. The study was conducted as a partnership between Yanyuwa Aboriginal families, research scientists, government officers and the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers. We conducted a series of participatory mapping workshops to share and record local observations of dolphins and dugongs. These observations provided the longitudinal information required to inform the design of the first dedicated marine mammal vessel survey in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The vessel surveys found three species of dolphins present in the area (Australian snubfin, humpback and bottlenose dolphins), even though sightings were low; dugongs being much more common. We found that the integrative and locally-based approach built the capacity of both the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers and research scientists to assess the distribution of marine mammals. If replicated over longer time-frames and coordinated over broader spatial scales, information on distribution and abundance derived from locally-based approaches has the potential to inform the status of marine mammals.
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We use uppercase ‘Indigenous’ when referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and lowercase ‘Indigenous’ when referring to the original inhabitants of other countries.
Traditional Owners are a group of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people that are directly descended from the original Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander inhabitants of a culturally defined area.
The term ‘country’ signifies the connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and land and sea, and is often used to describe family origins and associations with particular areas.
For more information, see Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976; Australian Native Title Act 1993; and Northern Territory of Australia v Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust D7 (2007) (the ‘Blue Mud Bay case’).
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This research was funded by the: Australian Marine Mammal Centre; Australian Department of the Environment; and an anonymous donor with a passion for dugongs. We thank: Dr Amanda Kearney (University of New South Wales) for facilitating the workshop attendance of the Yanyuwa women; Keith Saalfeld (Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport) for his valuable technical support; and the following organizations for sending representatives to the June 2009 workshop: Northern Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) and Northern Land Council (NLC). The li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers (Nicholas Fitzpatrick, Sean Fitzpatrick, Damien Pracy, Stephen Johnson, Anthony Johnston, Ronnie Miller, Graham Friday, and Thomas Simon) and Mathew Golding, Katharina Peters and Juliet Shrimpton participated in the vessel surveys as observers and provided logistical support. Carol Palmer (NRETAS) and Micha Jackson and Rod Kennett (NAILSMA) provided valuable assistance with CyberTracker software and use of the Nomad recording device. The mapping and knowledge sharing workshops were conducted under human ethics permit (No. H3332) from James Cook University. Surveys were conducted under animal ethics permit (No. A1433) from James Cook University and research permit (No. 35216) from the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.
Communicated by Angus Jackson.
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Grech, A., Parra, G.J., Beasley, I. et al. Local assessments of marine mammals in cross-cultural environments. Biodivers Conserv 23, 3319–3338 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0783-6
- Locally-based assessments
- Indigenous Australia
- Cross-cultural research