Indigenous women use traditional knowledge and science to protect the Great Barrier Reef from climate change, Far North Queensland

Larissa Hale, wife of Yuku Baja Muliku, once felt like the only woman in the room, but now finds herself among dozens of female native rangers passionate about protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

The women who took part in the recent Queensland Indigenous Women’s Ranger Network forum in Far North Queensland ranged from people like Hale’s aunt – who has worked on the reef since the 1980s – to new, younger rangers who ensure the continuation of the work for future generations.

“It was quite emotional. It was a very proud moment,” Hale said.

Larissa Hale wears many hats within her community and is passionate about inspiring the next generation of leaders to care for the Great Barrier Reef and the environment. (Provided)

“I was pretty much the first female Aboriginal coordinator for Queensland under the Aboriginal land and sea ranger programs, so the only female in the room for a long time.

“Seeing everyone made me feel like what we’re doing with the network is working.”

Hale is the Managing Director of the Yuku Baja Muliku Land Trust, the Chairman of the Traditional Owners Advisory Group with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a Cooktown Councilor and the Director of the Ranger Network.

Traditional owners from more than 70 indigenous groups along the reef have been instrumental in leading projects such as reef restoration and monitoring, turtle conservation, and crown-of-thorns starfish prevention. (Caroline Trewin)

She explained that among the Yuku Baja Muliku of Archer Point, 20 kilometers south of Cooktown in Far North Queensland on the Cape York Peninsula, it is the women who lead the community.

“I know a lot of southern bands have more male leadership, but ours has always been definitely female,” Hale said.

“I was raised by a very strong woman, it’s just something that has always been.

Dozens of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women gathered in Cooktown, Far North Queensland, to share their knowledge on land and sea management. (Yuku Baja Muliku)

“(Women) are the ones who hold our knowledge, they are the ones we look to for leadership – In our regions, women are the ones you talk to about the land of the sea.”

Hale recounts how his grandmother used to take the younger generations out to the reef, teaching them how to use a spear while his grandfather sat in the back of the canoe.

She said it was difficult to put into words the connection the indigenous people of the Cape felt with the land and the reef, interconnected by stories and culture spanning tens of thousands of years.

While the land and sea guard program has traditionally been dominated by men, more women than ever are rising through the ranks. (Queensland Indigenous Women’s Network)

“We are very connected to our salty part of the country, but we don’t separate land and sea, which is what I try to explain to people,” Hale said.

“Everything matters and things that happen on land impact the reef and things on the reef affect the land, we see it all as one.

“We pursue the connection by imparting basic knowledge.”

The women came together to connect and share knowledge from their communities at the Queensland Indigenous Women’s Ranger Network forum. (Queensland Indigenous Women’s Rangers Network)
The forum, held in Far North Queensland, was used to share traditional knowledge but also to train rangers in innovative environmental management solutions like drone surveying. (Queensland Indigenous Women’s Rangers Network)

Hale believes this traditional knowledge, combined with modern science, will be key to protecting the Great Barrier Reef from threats such as climate change.

Through her work with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, she helps connect the more than 70 indigenous groups who border the 2,300 kilometer stretch of reef with scientists leading conservation and research efforts, while ensuring that First Nations voices are heard.

“A lot of scientists are working very closely with us, we’re doing that right now with climate change, sharing the First Nations perspective and actually realizing that western science and mainstream science are getting married,” Hale said.

Hale said at least three of Far North Queensland’s indigenous clan groups, such as the Yuku Baja Muliku people of Archer Point, are predominantly matriarchal. (Yuku Baja Muliku)

“They are more and more open to the fact that traditional owners have a very, very good knowledge of their country, their land and their sea.”

Indigenous land rangers and mariners work with scientists to further researchers’ understanding of the reef, conducting projects such as tagging and conserving sea turtles, surveying reefs, and preventing starfish outbreaks. crown of thorns destructive sea.

Hale said that in the Archer Point area, traditional owners have worked with scientists from James Cook University to study the rapid decline of mussel populations over the years and find what is behind their decreasing size.

The Great Barrier Reef consists of over 2300 km of reef structures, the largest living organism on earth. (Caroline Trewin)

“Our seniors are saying we’re having trouble with our mussels and we need scientists to work with us on the mussel population,” Hale said.

“The strength of having Indigenous land and sea managers in our state let alone Australia is that we are on the ground. We are in the country, we know the country and we know when something has changed.

“With climate change, we can look at the weather and say it’s totally different from when we were kids.”

After decades of pressure for more say in reef management and policy, indigenous peoples are playing a crucial role in expanding knowledge about the Great Barrier Reef. (Queensland Indigenous Women’s Rangers Network)

The foundation’s Director of Traditional Owner Partnerships, Liz Wren, said there has been significant change and amplification of indigenous voices in reef management in recent years.

But indigenous peoples had been pushing for more say over the reef for decades.

“Traditional owners have come together to lobby for local maritime country management and have a say or input into policy and decision-making,” Wren said.

“It’s always been quite difficult to work on an area as dynamic as the reef, with many jurisdictions. It’s a very complex large-scale system.”

The reef is a complex and diverse living ecosystem seriously threatened by climate change. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“I think with traditional knowledge and science, what people don’t think about is that the traditional owners were in the presence of the reef when it formed.

“The management and conservation of the western area is very young compared to 80,000 years or time immemorial.

“Traditional owners have a rightful place in this process…It’s about trying to create a pathway for their voice to be heard.”