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Dugong and Marine Turtle Project

Indigenous people living along the coast have coexisted with Marine Turtles and Dugong for tens of thousands of years. Indigenous people have now clearly expressed their aspirations to lead the conservation of these species into the future. 

The Dugong and Marine Turtle Project commenced in 2005 and brought together Indigenous communities from across north Australia to protect threatened sea turtles and dugongs and their coastal habitats. As migatory species whose home ranges cross borders and seas, effective management requires partnerships, networks and collaborations that span north Australia and neighbouring nations.

Project partners

The project partners of the Dugong and Marine Turtle Project were:

  • Kimberley Land Council
  • Northern Land Council
  • Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation
  • Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation and
  • Torres Strait Regional Authority

The partner organisations oversaw the delivery of the project through Regional Activity Plans in selected ‘pilot’ communities. The Regional Activity Plans, developed through community consultation, identified Traditional Owners' needs and aspirations, the issues and threats facing dugong and marine turtle management, and the management and research activities that communities wish to undertake.

Saltwater country issues and concerns

Despite the many different backgrounds and locations of the communities involved, many similar issues have been identified, including:

  • a commitment to maintaining and valuing Indigenous Knowledge and customary practice as the basis for sustainable management plans
  • the need for more readily accessible scientific information on dugong and marine turtle populations and habitats;
  • the need to develop capacities of Indigenous rangers and land managers to be more actively involved in management and research of dugong, marine turtle and their habitat
  • wider partnerships with other Indigenous communities, researchers, government and industry to improve understanding of the threats to dugong and marine turtles, including entanglement in nets, marine debris, boat strikes, predation by feral animals, Indigenous harvest and habitat destruction and
  • the need for wider education about dugong and marine turtle management issues within communities, as well as transfer of knowledge to people outside of the communities such as tourists, scientists, policy-makers and the general public.

Our activities

NAILSMA worked with the project partners, providing coordination and undertaking cross-regional activities such as:

  • facilitating communication amongst participating Indigenous communities
  • standardised information recording and storage
  • training and exchange visits between participating communities
  • commissioning relevant reviews and analyses such as a socio-economic study of the value of dugong and marine turtle to Indigenous livelihoods
  • ensuring Indigenous representation in government initiatives, planning and committees and
  • communication activities to improve public understanding of the rights, roles, responsibilities and achievements of Indigenous people in managing dugong and marine turtle.

A Technical Reference Group of researchers, government, non-government and industry representatives provided professional advice and expertise on dugong and marine turtle and related management issues.

NAILSMA, the project partners and communities believed that by working together they would contribute to a long term vision of healthy and sustainable populations of dugong and marine turtle that supports Indigenous livelihoods across north Australia.

Related Content

Man holding baby sea turtles

The Australian Government’s Performance Story evaluation of the NAILSMA Dugong and Marine Turtle Project (DMTP) concluded the project was a “standout success” that had “outstripped the original expectations”.

NAILSMA Dugong and Marine Turtle Project final report
The long term vision of the NAILSMA Dugong and Marine Turtle project is for healthy and sustainable populations of dugong and marine turtles in north...
This legal review looks at the current laws and policies relating to the dugong and turtle fisheries in Torres Strait and identify opportunities and...
The Dugong and Turtle Knowledge Handbook is part of a program coordinated by NAILSMA to support Indigenous groups, communities and organisations...
Dugong and Marine Turtle: Teaching Resource and Information Package
This 64 page resource provides teachers and educators with a wealth of information about dugong and marine turtle. It frames scientific ecological...