A report under the Tropical Water Quality (TWQ) Hub provides further evidence that Torres Strait is the dugong capital of the world and a globally significant green turtle foraging habitat.
TWQ Hub Project 3.2, led by Professor Helene Marsh at James Cook University, focused on improving estimates of dugong and green turtle populations in the Torres Strait.
Professor Marsh and her team have found that Torres Strait dugong populations have been under-estimated in the past because the animals spend most of their time at the 5-20 metre depth range, out of sight from aerial surveillance.
Even though most Australian communities now have dugong and sea turtle management plans, the plans of the neighbouring Papua New Guinea communities are still in development and will be critical in determining management of these two species in the future.
Successful collaboration with traditional owners and Indigenous rangers in the Torres Strait was vital to the success of the project.
The Project 3.2 team worked closely with the Mura Badulgal Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBC), Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) Rangers and the local Badu community to track the dugongs and green turtles around the island chain.
Local knowledge was critical in locating and catching turtles and dugong in order to attach GPS trackers.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Prof Marsh said.
“It would have been impossible without the engagement of traditional owners at Badu, the RNTBC was vital in providing permissions and the skills and knowledge of the Rangers and community was essential in this project. A big ‘Esso!’ to everyone that helped.”
The project added to the body of knowledge about turtle and dugong ranging behaviour, including which animals’ path overlapped with traditionally owned sea country and if they entered the Dugong Sanctuary no-take zone. Two final reports are available on the Hub website – Working with the community to understand use of space by dugongs and green turtles in Torres Strait: A project in collaboration with the Mura Badulgal Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate discusses the dugong and turtle movements, whilst Improving the estimates of abundance of dugongs and large immature and adult-sized green turtles in Western and Central Torres Strait discusses the improved population density methodology.