Yarrbanthawu ki-Miriyiyu: Looking for Dolphins. Developing a Decision Process Based on Expert Knowledge to Inform the Management of Dugongs and Coastal Dolphins in Northern Australia: The Yanyuwa Sea Country in the Northern Territory as a Case Study

Marsh, Helene, Bradley, John, Parra, Guido, Grech, Alana, Whiting, Scott, Beasley, Isabel, Johnson, Steve, Barrett, David, Fitzpatrick, Nicholas, Friday, Graham, Johnston, Anthony, Keighran, Fiona, Miller, Ronnie, Norman, Leanne, Pracy, Damien, and the Yanyuwa families, (2010) Yarrbanthawu ki-Miriyiyu: Looking for Dolphins. Developing a Decision Process Based on Expert Knowledge to Inform the Management of Dugongs and Coastal Dolphins in Northern Australia: The Yanyuwa Sea Country in the Northern Territory as a Case Study. Report. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia.

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Abstract

The inshore waters of northern Australia support globally significant populations of three species of marine mammals of conservation concern: the endemic Australian Snubfin dolphin, a likely new endemic species of Humpback dolphin, and the dugong. Together, the Australian ranges of these coastal dolphins and dugong extend along some 32,000 kilometres of northern Australian coastline; around eighty percent of this region is in or adjacent to Sea Country over which Traditional Owners have significant legal rights and burgeoning logistical capacity through the development of Sea Ranger groups.

We developed a decision process based on expert (qualitative) knowledge using the Yanyuwa Sea Country of the Northern Territory as a case study. We developed a Community Engagement Tool for Sea Country Planning to collect information from Traditional Owners, representatives of the local (non-Indigenous) Fishing Club and the field notebooks of John Bradley, an anthropologist who has worked with Yanyuwa Traditional Owners for thirty years. We combined all of this information with sightings obtained on a dedicated vessel survey conducted by scientists in collaboration with the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers in a Community GIS. The combined approach provided more information on the distribution of the coastal dolphins than either the expert informants or the scientific survey could have provided alone.

The study further substantiated the importance of Yanyuwa Sea Country for dugongs and sea turtles, species of great cultural importance to the Yanyuwa. The project also confirmed the presence of all three species of coastal dolphins (Snubfin, Humpback and Bottlenose) in the Sea Country of the Yanyuwa. These three species are well known to the Traditional Owners and have Yanyuwa names. The coastal, shallow estuarine waters of the Yanyuwa Sea Country (which includes the fifth largest river system in the Northern Territory) appeared to be prime habitat for these species. The qualitative information from expert informants indicated that dolphins are widely distributed, particularly in shallow inshore waters. Nonetheless, the vessel surveys indicated that the numbers of each of the three species of dolphin that use Yanyuwa Sea Country were small in November 2010. Further vessel surveys are required to determine if there are seasonal patterns in the distribution and abundance of the coastal dolphins. If the low number of dolphins sighted is consistent across seasons, it will be impossible to monitor trends in their abundance in a management time frame because precise estimates of abundance will be unattainable. The survey also confirmed the value of the TDS Nomad handheld computer, the CyberTracker-based GPS software1 and the dedicated data recording sequence as a data-logging tool suitable for use by trained Sea Rangers. The Sea Ranger Marine Wildlife Tracker software sequence developed for this project will enable Sea Rangers to systematically collect details about whale, dolphin, dugong and turtle sightings. Long-term standardised collection of these data will be critical in determining the spatial and temporal patterns coastal dolphins in the remote coastal waters of northern Australia, and guiding future research effort through use of the CyberTracker will also allow the data to be incorporated into I-Tracker, a network of Indigenous land and sea managers across remote northern Australia who are using the CyberTracker to collect and manage information about their natural and cultural resources. To be successful, this approach will require high standards of observer training and data management.

Australian governments are increasing investment in programs such as Working on Country to provide the resources to enable Indigenous peoples to continue to manage their country. In most of the remote range of coastal dolphins and dugongs in northern Australia, the Indigenous Sea Ranger effort ‘on-country’ now far surpasses that of non-Indigenous officers and scientists and has considerable potential to provide the data required to inform the planning and management of inshore waters in remote regions using the techniques developed in this project.

Item ID: 16416
Item Type: Report (Report)
ISBN: 987-0-9808178-0-5
Funders: Australian Marine Mammal Centre
Date Deposited: 18 May 2011 01:41
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050206 Environmental Monitoring @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Knowledge @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950302 Conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage @ 25%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 75%
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