WAMSI/CSIRO partner with Kimberley Aboriginal groups to manage dugong

CSIRO, with the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI), has partnered with four Kimberley Aboriginal organisations to build and deliver a course in aerial survey methodology to Aboriginal Rangers, with a focus on dugongs. The three-day course was hosted by Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation’s Uunguu Rangers at their Garmbemirri camp in the north Kimberley.

Representatives from the Balanggarra, Uunguu, Dambimangari and Bardi Jawi ranger groups came together with researchers from CSIRO, training staff from Kimberley TAFE and two specialist consultants to learn best-practice survey techniques for monitoring dugong and other wildlife populations.

Rangers learnt via theory and practice how to conduct aerial surveys, with each participant taking off in a Gippsland G8 Airvan to practice surveying dugongs, dolphins and turtles from the air.

Dugong aerial survey training camp

“We need to know more about where balguja (dugong) live, feed and travel so we can look after them,” Uunguu Head Ranger Neil Waina said. “Learning these survey methods with other Traditional Owner groups will help us keep these animals healthy in our Country and keep our saltwater culture strong.”

Course accreditation on two of the modules (aerial navigation & safety around aircraft) was sought and co-funded by the Aboriginal research partners. The newly trained Rangers then worked closely with CSIRO researchers during September and October to undertake an aerial survey of their sea country and to contribute to critical baseline population surveys of dugongs and other marine wildlife species identified as target species in their Healthy Country Plans such as sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

Rangers conducting aerial surveys

The training course and aerial survey are components of the WAMSI Kimberley Marine Science Program’s Dugong Management project being run through the Coastal Program of the CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere Flagship.

The dugong project aims to integrate Indigenous knowledge, including that related to seagrass feeding grounds and seasonal effects on distribution and abundance, with existing and new data to better understand dugongs in the Kimberley.

A dugong, photographed at Roebuck Bay (Kimberley). (Photo: Dave Holley www.roebuckbay.org.au)

The dugong is listed internationally as “vulnerable to extinction” and northern Australia is home to the largest remaining populations. They have very high conservation value and are also culturally important to coastal Aboriginal communities.

New distribution and abundance data will be collected using well established aerial survey methodology, and movements of Kimberley dugongs will be studied also using satellite tracking and acoustic tagging technologies in areas important to sea country plans and Indigenous Protected Areas. This new information will be used to work out how best to monitor and manage Kimberley dugongs into the future.

The team.

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley. 


Kimberley Marine Research Program