Indigenous knowledge influences seagrass restoration

10 Nov 2020 | 3 mins

Scientists from The University of Western Australia have partnered with Indigenous rangers in Shark Bay to develop a seagrass restoration program that combines traditional ecological knowledge with genetically informed science.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Elizabeth Sinclair from UWA’s School of Biological Sciences and Oceans Institute said there was increasing recognition of the value provided by Indigenous rangers to restoring damaged seagrass systems.

“It is imperative that scientists collaborate with Indigenous rangers to enable the integration of traditional knowledge and skills that are focused on managing their country."

Dr Elizabeth Sinclair

“We’ve been working with the Malgana rangers in the UNESCO World Heritage area of Shark Bay in Western Australia, which they know as Gathaagudu,” Dr Sinclair said.

Bianca McNeair, a Malgana Traditional Owner, said the Malgana people are the custodians of Gathaagudu (two-waters). 

“We combine culture, knowledge of the environment and science to look after the waters, land and people,” MsMcNeair said.

The Malgana people are saltwater people, living around the water for the majority of their existence and have inhabited Shark Bay for more than 30,000 years. In 2018, they were finally recognised in the High Court as the Traditional Owners of Shark Bay.

“Today, much of their land is ‘sea country’, with their cultural heritage preserved under the extensive seagrass meadows that thrive in the shallow waters,” Dr Sinclair said.

During the collaboration, UWA’s Professor Gary Kendrick, Dr John Statton and Amrit Kendrick held a series of training workshops, in which several restoration methods were trialled including transplanting adult plants and assisting the recruitment of dispersing wire weed seedlings. 

The Malgana people now have six new Rangerswhoare being trained in seagrass restoration methods, with the genetic data informing where seed and plant material should be collected for restoration activities. 

Dr Sinclair said while many Indigenous people had been separated from traditional country due to colonisation, ranger programs were enabling them to rediscover their identity through reconnecting with country.

“It is imperative that scientists collaborate with Indigenous rangers to enable the integration of traditional knowledge and skills that are focused on managing their country,” Dr Sinclair said.

Traditional Owner and Malgana Land and Sea Ranger Nick Pedrocchi said the ranger program is restoring a sense of belonging, enabling Malgana peoples to reconnect to country, culture and language.

Dr Sinclair hopes the collaboration between UWA scientists and the Malgana rangers will have a bright future as it expands to research areas beyond seagrass.

“There is a long-term goal that the Malgana ranger program will provide permanent employment positions, and assistance with seagrass restoration and monitoring,” she said.

“The rangers further hope to educate tourists of their traditional knowledge, incorporating language, art, song and dance.”

The partnership is part of a project funded by the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Media references

Nicholas Smith, UWA Media Officer, 08 6488 1888 / 0411 644 492

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