Friday, 25 November 2016

The fate of Australia's dugongs and sea turtles

The fate of Australia’s dugongs and sea turtles due to declining numbers, loss of habitat, pollution, unmonitored legal hunting and illegal poaching is once more being debated in the media.
Tropic Now, 14 November 2016:
Traditional hunting advocates say the practise represents a small component of the issues facing sea turtles and dugongs.
Pic: David Reid

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has defended traditional hunting at a graduation ceremony for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers in Cairns.

Native title laws allow traditional owners to hunt endangered turtles and dugongs.

Wildlife identity Bob Irwin has recently called for a moratorium on current practices but Mr Scullion says hunting isn’t the problem.

“There is evidence to demonstrate it is sustainable and there is no evidence to demonstrate it isn’t,” he says.

“Yes, there are some threats to dugongs and turtles. But none of them come from the ocean, they all come from the land and they’re all associated with degradation of habitat.”

Indigenous ranger Mick Hale runs a turtle hospital, Yuku-Baja-Muliku, with his wife, Larissa, at Archer Point more than 300 kilometres north of Cairns.

“We started about six years ago,” Mr Hale says. “It came about around the time Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Yasi decimated our seagrass beds.

“We noticed a lot of sick turtles around [with no food], so instead of letting them die we started a turtle hospital.

Traditional hunting can be sustainable, Mr Hale says.

“The biggest challenge for us is getting the public to understand that traditional hunting is the smallest percentage of mortality for turtles and dugongs,” he says.

“We’ve got environmental impacts, habitat destruction, global climate change.

“These are all massive contributors to the demise of turtle and dugong populations.”

The Hales are currently caring for three turtles - two green sea turtles and a hawksbill.

“We just do it because it’s what we do,” Ms Hale says. “We look after country and after people so that we do have a sustainable future.”

Injinoo ranger Cristo Lifu says rescuing five olive ridley sea turtles from ghost nets with fellow Cape York rangers recently was a powerful experience.

“They were stranded and stuck in a net,” Mr Lifu says.

“We rescued them but it was lucky we were there. Because if not, they would have been dead in another two or three days.

“It’s just about caring for country. Our elders looked after country before us and it’s our time now to take over.”……

The Australian, 11 November 2016:

…three federal ministers commit to talk to indigenous rangers and the Queensland state government to spearhead moves that could see more “no take’’ zones introduced in a bid to stop the vulnerable ­species being poached and traded, as revealed in The Australian last month…..

The North Australian Indig­en­ous Land and Sea Management Alliance says commerc­ia­l­isation claims have been found to be “unsubstantiated”, while envir­onmental groups point out that dugongs and turtles face far greater threats than hunting, including loss of habitat, marine debris and coastal development.

The Cairns Post, 9 August 2016:

AN indigenous leader claims a moratorium on dug­ong and turtle hunting will not work and will only push poachers further underground.

The Coalition is preparing draft legislation to provide stronger protection for the marine creatures from over-exploitation by traditional owner groups.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch has said he is not happy with some elements of the draft legislation and wants a blanket moratorium on the traditional take of the species.

Girringun Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Phil Rist said his group’s TUMRA (Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreement) had ens­ured populations of turtles and dugongs along the Cassowary Coast remained sustainable for 10 years.

He said imposing a moratorium on hunting of the animals would push illegal hunting and exploitation further underground.

“TUMRAs around turtles and dugongs are the way to go,” he said.

“These are instruments for us – ourselves – to better manage our take of turtle and dug­ong on a sustainable level.

“These agreements are end­orsed by the State and Federal governments, and we have proven that they work and they work really well.”

Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre co-ordinator Jennie Gilbert supported a moratorium on turtle hunting, saying the animals definitely needed more protection in Far Northern waters.

“They have got enough threats in their lives without hunting,” she said. “We know that there’s illegal hunting and poaching going on out there.

“The numbers of green sea turtles in Far North Queensland still haven’t recovered from the mass stranding event of 2012, due to a lack of feeding grounds.”


ABC News, 27 September 2014:

The Federal Government is warning anyone involved in the illegal trade of dugong and turtle meat that they will be caught.

The Government has allocated $5 million to a dugong and turtle protection plan that involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Customs and Border Protection, and the Australian Crime Commission.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Crime Commission has been given $2 million to investigate the illegal trade.

Traditional owners have given their backing to the Government's protection plan.

"They know that their good name is being used by poachers," Mr Hunt said.

"We are determined to end the illegal trafficking in dugong and turtle meat and to protect these majestic creatures."

Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs, and "in exercise and enjoyment of their native title rights and interests".

Dugong and turtle poaching has been identified as a problem in the Northern Territory and Queensland, where the animals are hunted and the meat sold illegally.

National Indigenous radio broadcaster Seith Fourmile said non-Indigenous people were also involved in the illegal trade.

"They are involved with the trading, with selling it, passing it down - some of the turtle meat has gone as far south as Sydney and Melbourne," he said. 

Australian Government Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan 2014-2017:

To enhance the protection of our iconic marine turtles and dugong in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait, the Australian Government has committed $5.3 million over three years for delivery of a Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan under the Reef 2050 Plan and Reef Trust. The plan addresses threatening processes that impact on the long-term recovery and survival of these protected migratory species. Information about the Reef 2050 Plan and Reef Trust is available at

The Dugong and Turtle Protection Plan includes the following seven core elements:
       1.    $2 million for a Specialised Indigenous Ranger Programme for strengthened  enforcement and compliance and marine conservation in Queensland and the Torres Strait
The programme is being delivered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. More information is available at
       2.    $2 million for an Australian Crime Commission investigation into the illegal poaching, transportation and trade of turtle and dugong meat in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait
A fact sheet about the investigation by the commission’s Wildlife and Environmental Crime Team is available at Wildlife%20%26%20Environmental%20Crime%20Team%20FACTSHEET%20281114.pdf(link is external)
      3.    $700 000 for marine debris clean-up initiatives
Information about the Great Barrier Reef marine debris clean-up initiative is available at
     4.    $600 000 to support the Cairns and Fitzroy Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
The Reef Trust will support the work of the centre to rehabilitate sick and injured turtles and return them to the marine environment.
Information about the Cairns and Fitzroy Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is available at is external) and is external)
      5.    Working with Indigenous leaders to provide for traditional use and reef protection
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is working with Traditional Owners to develop Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements to provide for traditional use and deliver reef protection. This may also include voluntary no take agreements.
Information about the agreements is available at is external)
      6.    Federal legislation tripling the penalties for poaching and illegal transportation of turtle and dugong meat
The Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2015 amends various sections of the EPBC Act and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Marine Park Act) to provide additional protection for turtles and dugong. The amendments triple the maximum penalties for various criminal offences related to the killing, injuring, taking, trading, keeping or moving of turtles and dugong under the EPBC Act and for criminal offences and civil penalty provisions which apply to the taking of, or injury to, turtles and dugong where they are a protected species under the Marine Park Act.
The tripling of maximum penalties does not impact on the rights of Native Title holders under the Native Title Act 1993 to hunt turtle and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.
Information about the legislation is available at Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r5128
      7.    A national approach to dugong and turtle management
Refers to the nationally co-ordinated management of turtle and dugong in Australia. This includes the development of EPBC Act policy documents and guidelines such as updating the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles of Australia 2003, Marine Turtle Referral Guidelines and policy guidelines for dugong and seagrass habitats.

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