Perpetual Trustees Case Study
Hunting of Hawksbill turtles and the harvesting of their eggs is a traditional practice of the Indigenous people of northern Australia. The turtles are important as both a food source and for ceremonial activities therefore traditional hunting skills are highly esteemed among Indigenous coastal and island communities. However the Hawksbill turtle population is in decline and traditional hunting practices are becoming modernised through the use of motorised dinghies and commercial harpoons resulting in the potential for increased catch numbers.
Perpetual Trustees awarded Earthwatch a grant to send six Indigenous people from hunting communities in far north Queensland to participate on the Earthwatch supported Hawksbill Turtles of the Great Barrier Reef project. The six participants received two weeks of intensive field research experience, where they learnt monitoring techniques and population ecology issues. Participants were involved in all aspects of the research. They assisted with sighting and catching foraging turtles, tagging, measuring and recording observational data, measuring and weighing eggs and measuring and weighing hatchlings.
In addition Earthwatch designed, produced and distributed 500 "Turtle Tag Return" tee-shirts among Indigenous hunting communities. Turtles are tagged by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers and researchers such as those supported by Earthwatch, to determine their movement patterns and fate. It is essential that turtle hunters return these tags however most are discarded. The tee-shirts help disseminate the tag-return message throughout Indigenous communities and improve the rate of tag return.
Four of the six fellows were young men from the hunting communities of Hopevale, Cooktown and Ingham who, as the next generation of community leaders, are well placed to disseminate their knowledge throughout their communities. As young people they are also better able to connect with their peers who, it is found, are the most likely to hunt turtles unsustainably due to the status with which turtle hunting is held and limited employment and recreational opportunities available in the region.
The remaining two fellowships were given to Indigenous Trainee Rangers with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. The professional development opportunity that the Hawksbill turtle project provided these rangers is invaluable to their careers. They learnt about and contributed to scientific research, ecological processes, volunteer management, teamwork and communication and these skills will be of great benefit to them as they progress in their field. Their improved knowledge of Hawksbill turtles will also allow them to engage meaningfully with coastal hunting communities in an effort to reduce catch numbers to sustainable levels.