Caring for country extends beyond the land for Indigenous rangers in Tropical North Queensland

Indigenous rangers on sea country are working in a number of ways to help rejuvenate coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef. Given the impact of climate change, particularly warming oceans, on coral reefs it’s critical work.

The rangers are learning and gaining hands-on experience as part of the Reef Joint Field Management Program run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Up to 16 rangers from 10 traditional owner groups have undertaken dive training on Gunggandji and Yirrganydji sea country in Cairns, as part of the program. Back on shore, rangers are planting a native tree nursery along the coastal wetlands.

Ranger participant and Juru Enterprises projects manager Jessica Vakameilalo says the lack of coral growth has been one of their biggest issues.

“Sediments washed on coral reefs can smother corals, thereby impeding coral growth and reproduction and posing a severe threat to the reef,” she says. “Our team are currently working in and around the wetlands planting over 3000 trees a year, over five years, to help combat erosion and [implement] sediment control methods.”

A nursery of native trees in the coastal areas will help reforestation, limit erosion and assist with coral regeneration in the area.

“We will eventually open a nursery in late 2023 that can hold up to 20,000 native trees,” Vakameilalo says. “Around NAIDOC week, school kids began planting seeds sourced from regional ecosystems around the wetlands that are then planted back on site to encourage biodiversity that is unique to our area.

“This is to help regeneration within areas such as vine thickets and mangroves.”

Vakameilalo says sharing traditional knowledge with other ranger groups has been one of the more fulfilling points of the program.

“Working with traditional owners through a well-developed governance structure means we can share experiences safely and have an open conversation on protecting land and sea country,” she says. “This knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation and has developed the knowledge of our land, seas and environment.

“It’s useful in managing our future challenges such as climate change, land erosion, species management and coastal care.”

Federal Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek says she wants to see more First Nations rangers working on country.

“It means that our First Nations rangers have the skills needed to manage their sea country into the future, in partnership with government,” she says. “We have promised to double the number of indigenous rangers to 3800 – they’re doing amazing work and we want to see more of them.”

The Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program will see more than 100 new ranger positions created over the next three years.

More than 50 ranger positions have been allocated across 13 different Indigenous communities since the beginning of 2022.

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