Protecting marine turtles at Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area
State: NT | Hectares: 92,080 | IUCN Category: VI | Partners: Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation
With majestic coastlines, breathtaking views and fascinating native plants and animals, Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area is one of the most beautiful places in Australia, and is renowned as an inspiring cultural landscape.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), covering over 920 square kilometres of coastline and hinterland country on the western edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria, forms part of the wider traditional lands of the Yolngu people.
Sandy beaches, rocky coastal islands, spreading mangroves and ancient dune systems are found along Dhimurru's coasts. Inland, the Guwatjurumurru (Giddy River) flows through cascades and rockpools, before meandering through the coastal plain.
Over the years, Dhimurru's land and sea country have suffered from natural and human impacts. Marine debris and ghost netting are major problems in the area and have caused great concern for the safety of the miyapunu (marine turtle).
Djawa Yunupingu, a senior Yolngu landowner says miyapunu are important to Yolngu culture.
"The turtle story tells us how miyapunu swim to their feeding grounds and how they come up for air. These stories are told through our songs and dance and have been passed from generation to generation," Djawa says.
"The IPA helps us look after miyapunu, so they can go on breeding on our beaches and swimming in our waters. That's important to our country and important to us too."
Dhimurru Rangers are working hard to protect miyapunu and understand their movements better. Each year large numbers of miyapunu wash up on the shoreline entangled and trapped in fish netting carelessly discarded by foreign fishing boats. Exhausted, stressed and struggling to breathe, miyapunu are often found in desperate need of medical attention. Sadly, the rangers often reach them too late to save their lives.
Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation is undertaking a major miyapunu recovery plan with help from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern territory, WWF-Australia, the Aboriginal Benefits Account, Conservation Volunteers Australia and other supporting organisations. Launched in 1996, the long-term research project aims to eliminate marine debris so miyapunu populations can recover and flourish.
A major part of the recovery plan is research and data collection, with Dhimurru rangers capturing and tagging then releasing miyapunu for monitoring and scientific purposes. During the dry season they launch weekly helicopter flights over the coastline in search of miyapunu caught in ghost nets.
"Helping miyapunu is a big part of the work we're doing on the IPA, but it's not the only thing," Djawa said.
"We're looking at other environmental issues like land erosion too, and working to control feral animals and weeds."
Dhimurru Rangers have rescued around 300 miyapunu since the project began, with over half surviving their ordeal. But despite their best efforts, the rangers say much more work must be done.
"The helicopter patrols work well and we'll keep them going, and we'll try to get rid of as many ghost nets as we can by cleaning up the beaches. But getting people to stop dropping them in the sea is important too, so awareness is a big thing we'll be focusing on," Djawa says.
"The information we're collecting by monitoring the miyapunu will help in the long run too, so we can work out where they go and where they run into trouble.
"We will keep working hard to save miyapunu and find out as much as we can about them, so they can live on as strongly in our waters as they do in our culture."