Environmental Studies Program

 

Date of this Version

Fall 12-2010

Abstract

This paper will attempt to identify the extent to which the Torres Strait Islanders traditional hunting practices have been disrupted by the overall decline in dugong and sea turtle populations, which has directly correlated to an increase in hunting restrictions put in place by the Australian Government. The traditional hunting of dugongs and sea turtles provides not only a food source, but brings prestige to the men who catch them and serves as an educational platform to teach the younger generations about their culture. There are many environmental threats that impact the populations of sea turtles and dugongs though the main threats are loss of habitat and food source. The primary food source, seagrass, is extremely sensitive to environmental changes and affects how many marine species the ecosystem can support. The populations have to be monitored closely in order to prevent overhunting and the extinction of these majestic species.

The Torres Strait Islanders maintain a rich culture and have faced many hardships; hardships most recently due to the restrictions of colonialism. In recent years they have been granted the rights to their traditional lands, reefs, and natural resources. Many indigenous groups worldwide are at odds with their federal governments of their countries over land and natural resource rights. Though these indigenous people may consider themselves to be the original owners of the land or resources through process of dispossession and colonialism they have lost this ownership and corresponding rights. The Australian Government and the Torres Strait Islanders are working to combat decades of post-colonial attitudes and practices regarding land and resource management by working within a co-management system. This system is designed to give the indigenous populations a forum to voice their concerns and be part of this instrumental decision making process. Both for cultural and subsistence reasons the Torres Strait Islanders have a vested interest in the protection of dugongs and sea turtles for future generations. This connection precludes remaining animosity or hostility toward the once colonial authority and offers a foundation on which the Torres Strait Islanders are willing to cooperate with the Australian Government on the development of restrictions for traditional hunting practices until the populations of these species are able to rebound.