Researchers map deep ocean environment in remote Arnhem Land


Researchers from The University of Western Australia and Australian Institute of Marine Science have worked with the Anindilyakwa Land Council to map deep ocean habitats in remote Arnhem Land.

The new maps, which will guide future management of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, represent the first time traditional ecological knowledge and science have been used together to map benthic (deep ocean) Australian habitats.

The maps encompass species movement, current and oceanographic trends, seasonal variation, ecological processes and cultural information over an 1800sqkm area.

Researchers worked with 53 Indigenous people representing 14 different Anindilyakwa clan groups, collaborating to document marine habitats, fish biodiversity and distributions.

The Anindilyakwa people have inhabited the archipelago for approximately 6,000 years and have deep cultural ties to their Sea Country, as well as deep traditional ecological knowledge of the region. 

UWA PhD student Harriet Davies said the Anindilyakwa people provided an invaluable perspective when mapping ecological environments.

“Australia’s First Nations people are the longest surviving culture on Earth and have spent more than 60,000 years observing and understanding their natural environment. This, in my opinion, makes them the world’s greatest scientists. The Indigenous world view is very different from the western perspective and there is so much we, as scientists, can learn from learning to look, and listen, to Country in a different way.”

Harriet Davies , PhD student, Oceans Institute

“The ‘old way’ has cared for Country for millennia but now with climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction there are ‘new way’ problems. 

“The best chance we have for ensuring the health of our oceans for future generations is to shift towards a new paradigm for marine science where traditional knowledge and western science walk hand in hand to make management decisions; our paper provides a platform for scientists to do just that.”

The research team hopes its new method in marine conservation, which supports Indigenous values while enriching scientific understanding, will become widely used around the world.


Media references

Tina Zhang,  Communications Officer, Oceans Institute,  08 6488 3732

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