Elder Bob Muir with mum Nelly as they recount their history at the welcoming ceremony.
Elder Bob Muir with mum Nelly as they recount their history at the welcoming ceremony.

Partnership begins on North Keppel Island

THIS week North Keppel (Konomie) ancestors began an important partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science to map traditional and scientific knowledge of the marine environment and bring new skills to the region.

Monday was a humbling day as almost 50 traditional owners representing all six Woppaburra families returned to North Keppel Island (Konomie) to work with AIMS researchers in a week-long bid to protect the island and its waters.

As emotional welcomes were made, North Keppel island Environmental Education Centre Principal Andrew Gill said the partnership will ensure our collective knowledge will be pooled in a bid to help protecting the island for future generations.

“This partnership will offer future opportunities for training our young people for the future,” he said.

“We have a very busy and exciting week ahead, this is a wonderful partnership that will benefit all parties for the future of the reef.”

AIMS Indigenous Engagement Co-ordinator, Cultural Adviser, and Woppaburra elder Mr Bob Muir said for some of the traditional owners, especially the younger family members, it would be their first opportunity to be on their country.

“As Woppaburra descendants, we have actively maintained our cultural connections and responsibilities to land and sea country,” Mr Muir said.

“In 1902 our ancestors were removed from the island and separated with many not seeing each other again for over 40 years so it is wonderful to see their descendants come home together to protect and nurture the land.

“This is especially important for the young ones who need a view for the future, learn about their past and more about where they come from.

“This collaboration will help strengthen our spiritual connections and inform management of our land and sea country for future generations.

“By working together with AIMS, we can also fulfil our obligation to preserve and maintain species and habitats including sea grasses, coral reefs and marine animals including the humpback whale, the spiritual saltwater totem for the Woppaburra people.

“This is about sharing our knowledge, the knowledge of our ancestors to protect it for the future.”

AIMS marine scientist Libby Evans-Illidge said the marine environment around the Keppel Islands supported vibrant and diverse coral reef communities, but these were also facing threats from warming, floods, cyclones and other human pressures.

“This project is a great example of making genuine partnerships with the traditional owners of the sea country where AIMS does research,” Ms Evans-Illidge said.

“Our researchers will spend the next week being guided by the traditional owners, to identify and document areas of special significance and determine the priorities and study locations for future research.

“They have made us feel very welcome. The traditional owners were the first scientists and have much to share to aim for the best possible outcome for the reef and the land.

“Protecting the Great Barrier Reef and the benefits it provides, requires management that uses traditional ecological knowledge, science and new approaches, and technologies in a collaborative approach.

“We all want a sustainable reef for the future.”

This project has been facilitated by the Woppaburra Traditional Use of Marine Resource Agreement (TUMRA) Steering Committee. In 2014 the Woppaburra people adopted the formal management arrangement with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that empowers them to develop and implement sea country research and management initiatives.

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