Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Sharing stories of the sea: from Torres Strait to the Solomon Islands

Media release
18 April 2013

Five Torres Strait Island rangers and traditional owners are setting out today on the journey of a lifetime to meet and work with their colleagues in the Solomon Islands.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the week-long Solomon Islands trip is the second in a series of six international Indigenous and Local Community ranger exchanges building momentum in the lead up to the inaugural World Indigenous Network Conference in Darwin next month.

The conference has attracted more than 1100 registrations from around 50 countries. The extensive program boasts more than 75 conference sessions, side events, a community art space and dedicated streams for both women and youth.

"Australia has taken a lead on the World Indigenous Network because we strongly value traditional knowledge and skills to help protect our land and sea not just here in Australia but across the globe," Mr Burke said.

"The expansion of the Indigenous Rangers network is one of the most important environmental achievements of this Government. Since we came to office, this program has grown from 100 rangers to more than 700 rangers employed in environment and biodiversity protection and cultural heritage conservation. I see this as one of our most important environmental achievements.

"Now we're taking our commitment to the global stage with the World Indigenous Network ranger exchanges and the conference in Darwin.

"In a world-first, we're bringing Indigenous and Local Community land and sea managers together from every continent on earth to share traditional ecological knowledge and learn from each other."

Ahead of the conference, Torres Strait Islander rangers will travel to the Arnavon Islands in the Solomons to meet with the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area group. This marine protected area encompasses 157 km2 of three small uninhabited islands, flourishing reefs, fish-filled lagoons and beaches that comprise the nesting grounds for thousands of hawksbill sea turtles.

Since the establishment of this protected area, numbers of critically endangered species have increased by nearly 400 per cent. Livelihoods around the Arnavons are dependent on the marine environment, and now local youth are employed as monitors and students learn about the group's conservation efforts. The area has also helped bring about an innovative solution to local resource conflict through community collaboration around conservation.

The Torres Strait Islander delegation to Arnavon Islands includes Torres Strait Regional Authority chairman, Joseph Elu.

"We share much common ground with the Arnavon communities. We both are reliant on our marine environment to contribute towards our economic development and sustainability and at the same time ensure we meet our cultural obligation to care for sea country and all living things," Mr Elu said.

"We're looking forward to the exchange, exploring how we can share knowledge about protecting threatened and culturally important species like marine turtles and dugongs, our conservation techniques and methods with each other."

The Australian Government is working in partnership with the Nature Conservancy to make the Solomon Island and Torres Strait Island exchange possible.

The Director of the Nature Conservancy's Solomon Islands Program, Willie Atu, said they had worked closely with Arnavon Islands communities since the early 1990s and the exchange with traditional owners from the Torres Strait Islands will greatly complement this work.

"The Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area was first established in 1995 and was the first community-managed marine conservation area in the Solomon Islands," Mr Atu said.

"The project is one in a growing series of Equator Prize winners vetted and peer-reviewed best practices in community environmental conservation and sustainable livelihoods. That's why we're excited with our involvement in the sharing and exchange of knowledge between two communities with such strong sea country connections."