Among them are the Gudjuda Land and Sea Rangers from the Burdekin region, 650km south of Cooktown, who are also working alongside scientists to combat another threat to the world’s largest coral reef system in the form of fibropapillomatosis, a turtle-specific herpes virus first observed in the Great Barrier Reef’s turtles in the 1970s.
“Our ancestors never knew about this disease, so it’s important for us to understand it so we can help educate our people about it,” said Eddie Smallwood, elder and chairperson of the Gudjuda Reference Group based in Home Hill, which works in partnership with Queensland’s James Cook University and the World Wildlife Fund, amongst other environmental action groups.
Thought to be caused by marine pollution, fibropapillomatosis isn’t only a threat to turtles, resulting in tumours that can blind them, but also to the reef’s cultural heritage. “Turtle has been a food source for our people for thousands of years, but after what I’ve seen, I don’t eat it anymore,” rued Smallwood.
As part of their extensive turtle monitoring program, Gudjuda rangers conduct periodic turtle rescue and tagging excursions called “turtle rodeos”. And in the coming months, visitors will be able to join these lively catch-and-release data collection events with Gudjuda Tours.
“The tours will give us a chance to show people how we look after turtles, and the important role of turtles in the ecosystem, and in our culture,” said Smallwood.
Just a short hop north, in the Townsville region, the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) also showcases indigenous conservation themes in its series of aquatic installations released in several stages.