Marine area to protect ‘sacred sites, song lines’

Date: Aug 1, 2022

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Newspaper

When the Land Rights Act was passed, the mob in Canberra didn’t pay much attention in the law about the importance of sea country to our people. High Court rulings and changes to law and policy now recognise the critical role Traditional Owners have in protecting sea country.

In May, the South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) was one of 10 – and the only Northern Territory-based project – to receive grant funding from the Sea Country IPA Program Grant Opportunity.

This new Commonwealth funding will allow Traditional Owners to better protect a swathe of sea country along the on the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The proposed SEAL sea country IPA covers almost 11,000 square kilometres, including 300km of coastline. It extends from the high-tide mark seawards up to 140 kilometres off the coast.

Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers and their Ngukurr-based counterparts, the Yugul Mangi Rangers, will work together on the SEAL IPA.  

Senior Numbulwar Numburindi Ranger Clive Nunggurgalu said the proposed marine IPA will protect culture and biodiversity.

Senior Ranger and Traditional Owner Clive Nunggurgalu.

“The new marine IPA will help protect the songlines that run along the coast from Groote Eylandt to Wuyagiba and better identify sacred sites that run along that songline,” Mr Nunggurgalu said.

“It will also help keep the beach clean and the water looking clean to save all the turtles, dugong, fish, and dolphins. 

“And hopefully it will help stop illegal commercial fisherman. All the time when I do beach clean-up I see all their dead excess fish on the beach.”

The area contains biodiverse marine and coastal environments including large areas of seagrass meadows, fringing coral and rocky reefs, tidal waterways, mangrove forests, saline wetlands, beaches, islands and quays. 

Former Northern Land Council SEAL IPA Coordinator Catherine Whitehead said members of the SEAL IPA Advisory Committee have worked hard to bring this project to fruition.

“The committee members have been working on this sea country IPA proposal for some years,” said Ms Whitehead, who now works at the Tiwi Land Council.

“Extensive consultation and planning was put into this and the members are proud that their application was successful.”

Ms Whitehead said the new funding will enable the ranger groups to provide further training opportunities and employ more rangers.

“The new sea country IPA will bring in additional funding which will provide support for both the Numbulwar Numburindi and Yugul Mangi Ranger groups to increases their capacity to protect their sea country.

“This additional funding will also enable the groups to employ more rangers in Numbulwar and Ngukurr.”

Ms Whitehead said of the first projects to be undertaken will be a collaborative project with researcher scientists from Charles Darwin University and James Cook University.

“The researchers will collect baseline data for seagrass habitat coverage along the coast and other important marine habitat for listed marine species and cultural significant species including dugong and turtles.”