Conservation—meeting the challenges
As noted in the previous chapter, as parties to the Treaty, Australia
and PNG have responsibilities for preserving the environment in the Torres
Strait so that Indigenous inhabitants can continue to carry out their
traditional activities. International agreements also place obligations on both
countries to use their best endeavours to protect vulnerable species such as
turtle and dugong in the Torres Strait. In this chapter, the committee examines
the measures that Australia is taking to fulfil its obligations under the Treaty
and international conventions. It considers measures that are being taken in
the Torres Strait to: prevent over-exploitation of scarce resources; involve local
communities in the sustainable management of their environment; and police and
enforce agreements designed to protect the region's ecosystem. It also examines
the nature and value of current research on conservation in the region and its
practical application to the challenges facing local communities. The
committee's focus is on the marine life now under threat of serious depletion.
Sustainable management––Australia's role
The Australian Government exercises a number of controls to help manage
the conservation of species under threat, such as regulations governing
seasonal closures, permit and quota systems, and licensing arrangements. For
example, with regard to turtle and dugong, the committee noted in Chapter 8 that
the Treaty restricts the hunting of these animals to traditional means. The
Guidelines for Traditional Visitors make clear that dugong and turtle are
among the species covered under CITES and that traditional fishers:
...cannot take or trade dugong or turtle specimens and their
products for eg: dugong or turtle meat, dugong bone or tusk or turtle shell across
the border. Not from PNG into Australia or from Australia into PNG. If you do
bring dugong or turtle products (including carvings) into the Torres Strait
from PNG these items can be seized by Australian authorities.
Commercial fishing for bêche-de-mer
in the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ) is effectively closed, with a total
allowable catch set at zero. For traditional inhabitants the catch is limited
to only three per person or six per boat.
The committee has noted, however, that unreported, unregulated or
illegal fishing is a problem in the Torres Strait, which underscores the need
for effective management plans. Moreover, to achieve the objectives of these
plans, high levels of compliance is needed.
Understandably, because traditional fishing has such strong economic,
cultural and social significance for Torres Strait Islanders, they will not
accept unquestioningly restrictions on the exercise of these activities. Thus,
their active involvement in decisions about, and support for, the conservation
of threatened marine life in the Torres Strait is critical to the sustainable
management of these species. The 2007 Torres Strait Turtle and Dugong Fisheries
The key issue is the level of stakeholder support. So long as
the communities view any more restrictive measures as being thrust upon them by
government, the measures are unlikely to succeed. The point at which the
communities view the government's actions as helping them to implement measures
to protect turtles and dugong for their future generations, that is the point
at which the management response will have the greatest prospect of success.
Along similar lines, the 2008 study of dugongs in Northern Australia
found that the priorities of Indigenous peoples and government agencies are
'almost certainly different'.
It noted the importance of Australia developing 'culturally acceptable and
scientifically robust mechanisms to manage indigenous hunting' and cited the 'National
This policy is intended to assist Indigenous communities become actively involved
in the sustainable management of turtles and dugongs in their locations.
Professor Glen Hurry, AFMA, agreed with the view that the best way to manage
turtle and dugong was 'through the communities' and referred to building a
better understanding among the local people of the need for sustainable
Indeed, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
(EPBC) seeks to achieve the engagement of Indigenous people in conservation
through a partnership that involves the community in management planning.
Community management plans in the
For a number of years in the Torres Strait, the government has invested
in developing community management plans that seek to achieve the ecological
sustainability of turtle and dugong with fairness and cultural sensitivity. For
example, a Natural Heritage Trust project provided funding to the TSRA to
develop community-based management plans for the marine turtle and dugong
Since 2006, the TSRA’s Land and Sea Management Unit (LSMU) has coordinated the
development of management plans by 15 Torres Strait communities. This work has
- employing local turtle and dugong project officers to facilitate
monitoring activities and planning processes in their community;
- subsequently employing community rangers to support the
implementation of community recommendations for turtle and dugong management;
- developing proposed action plans to manage the fishery in a
The project has received more than $2 million in funding from the Australian
Government for the development of the community plans and another $13.8 million
to employ 24 community rangers across eight communities until 2013. The
Queensland Government has also contributed to this investment and, according to
the TSRA, negotiations were to be initiated with the Australian Government for
the funding of ranger programs in the remaining seven communities.
According to the TSRA, the turtle and dugong management plans were to be
completed for all 15 Torres Strait communities by the end of 2009.
In November 2009, the Torres Strait Fisheries Management Advisory Committee noted
that dugong and turtle project officers were in place at Saibai, Dauan, Kubin
and Masig, with recruitment under way for Warraber, Poruma and Ugar. It also
recorded that eight communities had developed dugong and turtle management
plans. The completed plans contained tools for the seasonal closure of hunting
of these animals which included the collection of turtle eggs in the management
areas designated by each community.
According to DEWHA:
In many ways these plans are very innovative (and regionally
relevant) because they include aspects of traditional and customary law in the
management of the take of turtle and dugong together with spatial and seasonal
closures to work towards an ecologically sustainable harvest. These management
plans also acknowledge and articulate how to accommodate the take of turtle and
dugong by hunters from Papua New Guinea as allowed under the Treaty.
Mr Oxley, DEWHA, noted that the PZJA agencies considered these plans to 'be
appropriate mechanisms for the management of the Torres Strait turtle and
dugong fishery and that those arrangements are capable of ensuring that the
harvest of those species is sustainable in the Torres Strait'.
In November 2009, the Torres Strait Fisheries Management Advisory
Committee also noted that community rangers were employed at Mabuiag and Badu,
with the recruitment of rangers in process for Boigu, Iama and Erub, and
recruitment to take place for Mer and Moa in early 2010.
DEWHA explained that each of the ranger groups would undertake activities
...marine turtle and dugong monitoring and management, ghost
net collection, fire management, invasive species management and other natural
resource management activities, as identified in the land and sea management
strategy for the Torres Strait. All rangers will also be undertaking accredited
(Certificate II/III) training in fisheries management and/or conservation and
The TSIRC employs the project officers and community rangers and
provides them, in partnership with the TSRA, with administrative and
operational support. The Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) on each island gives
guidance to rangers on their work priorities and on any cultural protocols that
they need to follow.
In this regard, the TSRA noted in its submission that currently all
community ranger positions were funded from grants. It suggested that the
transfer of these positions to permanent jobs would 'provide the Torres Strait
with the environmental protection that is required of Australia under
international treaties and the opportunity to build conservation management and
fisheries development partnerships with PNG'.
The committee recognises the need to achieve a sustainable harvest to
ensure the conservation and protection of turtle and dugong in the Torres
Strait. This objective can only be achieved through strong local community
support that is based on close involvement in the monitoring and management of
vulnerable species in the region. The committee fully endorses the development
of culturally acceptable and scientifically robust mechanisms whereby Indigenous
communities in the Torres Strait are actively engaged in the sustainable
management of vulnerable marine species in their localities, for example,
through community rangers. Adequate and a secure source of funding, however, is
needed for the effective implementation of the community management plans.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that
funding for the development of community management plans and the employment of
community rangers is secure and commensurate with the maintenance and progress of
In recognition of the important role of community rangers in both
conservation and biosecurity, the committee recommends that the Australian
Government in consultation with TSIRC and TSRA, give consideration to making these
Sustainable management—PNG's role
The Torres Strait forms one eco-region with, for example, PNG and
Australia sharing the traditional harvesting of dugong, turtle and bêche-de-mer. Recognising
that the Torres Strait is a joint jurisdiction area, Mr See Kee, TSRA, noted
that while Australia is making progress on its side of the border, for example,
regarding the dugong and turtle program, and taking steps to deal with the climate
change challenge, such endeavours are not being matched on the other side.
In this regard, the committee has drawn attention to the concerns of some
Torres Strait Island leaders that PNG nationals engage in the illegal harvest
of marine species or fail to observe conservation measures adopted by Torres
Strait Island communities. It noted comments to the effect that on the PNG
side, there are no laws to address these issues or resources sufficiently
adequate to police them (see paragraphs 9.30–9.34).
The Treaty requires Australia and PNG, as appropriate and necessary, to
exchange information concerning species of indigenous fauna and flora under
threat of extinction and, at the request of either country, to consult in order
(a) harmonise their policies
with respect to the measures to protect species of indigenous fauna and flora
that are or may become threatened with extinction; and
(b) ensure the effective and
coordinated implementation of those measures.
According to DEWHA, Australia and PNG are making efforts 'to co-operate
and develop complementary mechanisms for the sustainable management of turtle and
dugong fisheries, including continuing to develop culturally informed,
community-based management plans'.
For example, recent attempts have been made at the community level through
local gatherings and the Traditional Inhabitants Meetings (TIMs) to obtain
PNG's cooperation to support the implementation of community-based management
plans. Two meetings held in February and April 2009 have allowed traditional
inhabitants to explore issues to do with hunting closures and permit
arrangements proposed in the Torres Strait community plans.
At the first meeting, Torres Strait Turtle and Dugong Project Officers
proposed to join Treaty Liaison visits to coastal villages in PNG to identify
opportunities for shared cross-border management approaches for turtle and
dugong. Further, Treaty villagers requested a visit to Mabuaig Island to see
how the rangers there work on their community Turtle and Dugong Management
Plan. Arrangements for this visit were made in consultation with the Mabuaig community.
Dr Hitchcock, who is concerned about the depletion of local resources particularly
turtle and dugong, explained that he participated in a joint awareness visit:
We moved along the treaty villages talking about this very
issue, trying to gather data on people's use of turtle and dugong in particular
in the strait. I think this is one of the key challenges for the future.
The TSRA informed the committee that the main objectives reached at the second
meeting were for nominated PNG Treaty villages to be involved in the turtle and
dugong management planning process on Saibai and Boigu; and for other PNG
Treaty villages to become more aware of the planning process.
In TSRA's assessment:
A key outcome of both meetings was that Torres Strait
Islander engagement with PNG Treaty villages was recognised as a priority in
any future cross-border arrangements for the management of turtle and dugong in
the Torres Strait.
The TSRA found that 'community level contacts are starting to be established
through the collaborative turtle and dugong conservation projects developed by
DEWHA and the TSRA'.
In its view, it was 'not unreasonable to expect that at some time in the
future, bilateral arrangements are made between PNG and Torres Strait
communities for the conservation management of the biodiversity values of the
With regard to compliance, the TSRA reported that communities in the
Torres Strait were currently focused on establishing arrangements to enforce the
management plans. Its Land and Sea Management Unit (LSMU) was preparing formal declarations
of the seasonal turtle and dugong hunting closures and permit system arrangements
in each community plan as regulatory 'Fishery Management Instructions' under
the Torres Strait Fisheries Act (TSFA).
An agenda paper for the November 2009 meeting of the Torres Strait Management
Advisory Committee noted that further negotiation was needed with PNG on
traditional inhabitant support for these proposed arrangements.
A draft strategic assessment report of the Torres Strait turtle and dugong
fishery by DEWHA commended the TSRA for the community-based approach to
management and recommended the approach to the PZJA as a tool for future
management of the fishery.
The committee notes that a Marine Turtle and Dugong Workshop, held in
Daru in June 2010, continued to build on the efforts of local communities,
government agencies and researchers to engage PNG traditional inhabitants in
the sustainable management of turtle and dugong in the region.
In addition to these various workshops and community-level meetings with
Treaty villages, there are a number of meetings through which conservation
matters can be considered jointly by Australia and PNG: namely the Environment
Management Committee and the Joint Advisory Committee.
Environment Management Committee
and the Joint Advisory Committee
The Environment Management Committee (EMC) under the Joint Advisory
Committee (JAC) is a key mechanism whereby Australia and PNG can share
information and collaborate on matters affecting the environment within the
Torres Strait Treaty Zone and surrounding region. DEWHA explained that the EMC
would continue to address marine turtle and dugong issues, 'with both Australia
and PNG seeking ways and means to implement a framework for their sustainable
The TSRA informed the committee that the JAC supports the efforts of
traditional inhabitants on both sides of the border to cooperate in the
management of these species.
PNG's capacity to engage in
These community and higher government-level meetings are only the first
step toward establishing a genuine partnership between PNG and Australia to
meet key environmental objectives for the Torres Strait. But as noted by the
TSRA, PNG has difficulties matching expectations. Mr See Kee noted that at the
JAC meetings, there appears to be 'common acknowledgement of issues, many of
which are "long standing"'. He explained further that in reviewing
environmental related issues over the past five years:
There is a commitment to do it on the other side but not too
many resources, so nothing much changes. Torres Strait...is a joint jurisdiction
area, so it makes it very hard to move forward...in the eyes of the community it
seems that everything is being done on this side to make it sustainable and so
people have to give things up in some ways, yet there does not seem to be that
reciprocity across the border in the arrangements that are happening.
The challenge for Australia is not only to secure PNG's support for
conservation and sustainable management plans in the Torres Strait but to
assist it with the wherewithal to engage actively and with common purpose.
There is a clear need to have local communities on the PNG side participate as
practical partners in the conservation of marine species in the Torres Strait
and for them to develop programs that complement those on the Australian side.
The committee appreciates that community engagement in the formulation
and implementation of the community management plans is vital to their success,
including an effective and committed partnership with neighbouring PNG villages.
Thus, when considering the sustainable management of species such as turtle,
dugong and bêche-der-mer
in the Torres Strait, the role of PNG cannot be overlooked. Support by PNG
traditional inhabitants for, and their compliance with, the plans is needed to
achieve the objectives.
The community management plans and ranger programs discussed earlier provide
an ideal foundation upon which to build a much broader fisheries management
approach in the Torres Strait. The committee recommended that the Australian Government
ensure that there is adequate funding available to local communities to allow
them to continue and to expand the community management plans and their
implementation. Assistance is also needed to support conservation measures on
the PNG side of the border.
The committee recommends that AusAID, in conjunction with local
communities in the Torres Strait, consider ways that would enable much greater
engagement by PNG villagers in the work of community rangers in the Torres
Strait as a means of educating and training them in conservation and
biosecurity and in managing their environment. In particular, the committee
recommends that the Australian Government support the TSRA's efforts to engage coastal
communities in Western Province in turtle and dugong conservation.
The committee recommends further that the Australian Government fund a
number of scholarships for PNG post-graduate students whose research would be
linked to the community management plans now in operation in the Torres Strait
and the work of community rangers.
Research on the Torres Strait
The committee recognises that access to sound and reliable data is vital
to developing management plans that would allow traditional inhabitants to
continue their activities in the Torres Strait without compromising the health
of future fish stocks. In this section, the committee looks at data collection
and research with regard to conservation and sustainable management in the
In the previous chapter, the committee noted the inadequacy of data on the
population status of turtle and dugong in the Torres Strait. Indeed, the
committee cited a number of studies that have commented on the limited data that
is available for scientific assessment of the sustainability of marine turtles
and dugongs in the region.
The committee also referred to other factors that complicate predicting the
future health of these stocks, including the long-term effects of current
practices or events, the results of which may not become apparent for many
years. The possible increased demand on marine resources due to population
growth in the South Fly District adds to the mix of factors that could
influence the extent to which protected species are harvested. Changes in
climate and their potential to damage the breeding and foraging habits of these
animals creates further difficulties when formulating and implementing
conservation measures and underscores the importance of having data that is
current and reliable.
Mr Oxley explained that on the evidence in front of them and recognising
that they were not necessarily working in an information-rich environment,
DEWHA was 'reasonably confident that in the Torres Strait those resources were
being managed sustainably'.
He agreed, however, that they would be more comfortable if they had better
information at their disposal but that more resources would be needed to address
He explained that broadly, the marine environment is 'little understood
relative to our terrestrial environment and that one could spend a very large
amount of money improving that understanding'.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that
there is adequate funding available for:
- regular assessments of stocks of protected or vulnerable
marine species in the Torres Strait; and
- research into the nature and size of the catch by traditional
inhabitants and the illegal or unauthorised harvest of marine turtles, dugong
in the Torres Strait.
Although there is no commercial turtle or dugong fishing in the Torres
Strait, their stocks are monitored.
For example, studies to gauge the traditional catch of turtles in the Torres
Strait first began in the 1970s. The CSIRO and the MTSRF are two of the key
institutions that conduct surveys and research work across a range of
conservation matters in the Torres Strait.
CSIRO is one of a few research institutions that has carried out
research on turtle fishery.
It undertook more detailed investigations of dugong and turtle harvests in the
early 1990s which were continued by AFMA in the periods 1993–1996 and
More recently, it has undertaken numerous biodiversity surveys throughout the
region, including deepwater habitats, reef habitats and mudflat seagrass
communities. These have been used for mapping, marine habitat characterisation
and environmental impact and sustainability studies, particularly of the Torres
Strait prawn fishery.
The two surveys on bêche-de-mer
in the Torres Strait mentioned in the previous chapter are examples of the work
that CSIRO is doing to monitor and assess the status of stock numbers in the
region so that decision makers are able to formulate sound management plans.
The MTSRF also conducts monitoring programs in the Torres Strait for
turtle and dugong. It has a research program that covers marine species of
conservation concern, including the study of the condition and stock trends of
dugongs and marine turtles in the Torres Strait and management options to
improve their status.
The facility places a high priority on working with local communities in
Working with communities
The committee has already drawn attention to the need for community
support and involvement in devising and implementing management plans for
vulnerable marine species in the Torres Strait. This level of engagement extends
to research projects. In this regard, the 2007 Torres Strait turtle and dugong fisheries
There appears to be an underlying level of
misunderstanding/distrust between indigenous groups and the research/management
agencies involved in the turtle and dugong fisheries, as evidenced by community
concerns that any data collected/provided may ultimately be used in ways that
are not in the communities' best interests.
For some time, a number of island representatives have called on
researchers to involve traditional inhabitants in their work 'to ensure
communities have faith in research results'.
For example, concerns were raised in 2009 in relation to researchers not discussing
'research requirements with traditional property owners... regarding research
they wish to be conducted in their land and sea country'.
CSIRO researchers are aware of the importance of finding better ways to
'include community input with Western science and management practices'. They
believe that this engagement 'is the only way forward for Torres Strait
For example, an objective of the 2009 bêche-de-mer
survey was to transfer resource management skills to traditional inhabitants. It
included a consultation phase intended to allow traditional property owners to
explain their needs and opinions on the status and management of the sea
cucumber and trochus; to inform them of past research and allow them direct
input into the survey. There was also a training component where trainees
attended a two-day workshop and some went on to assist CSIRO researchers during
The Torres Strait Scientific Advisory Committee viewed 'favourably' CSIRO's
approach to involving and employing Torres Strait Islanders in these surveys.
Researchers with the MTSRF also understand the importance of ensuring
that any new solutions and ideas emanating from research are conveyed in a meaningful
way to the people who need to know—managers, policy-makers, practitioners and the
general public as well. Ms Morris noted that 'knowledge delivery' is a major
focus of the institution's research.
She explained, moreover, that the facility engages and trains many Indigenous
They all have to have commercial dive tickets, they all have to
have coxswain tickets, they all have to be trained in scientific technique, and
we do as much of that as we can in the region.
For example, Ms Morris informed the committee that the research facility
works together with the 51st Battalion, the Far North Queensland Regiment which,
in her view, has proved to be 'very helpful'. The Battalion's C Company is
based in the Torres Strait and is composed mainly of reservists drawn from the
local communities, including from the outer islands such as Boigu.
They conduct numerous patrols and surveillance activities in the region. She
explained that they train many of these soldiers to work as Indigenous
technicians with their research scientists. In her view, that is a 'very good'
program and has been working for quite a long time. She noted further that researchers
share information with the battalion on their monitoring sites and matters
relevant to illegal activity.
According to Ms Morris, their researchers also work very closely with
each other on the ground in the Torres Strait and invite other researchers and
entities to come up and utilise their facilities and structures.
The committee understands that any data gathering or research on the
environment in the Torres Strait requires the engagement of the traditional
inhabitants not only to secure strong local support for recommendations coming
out of projects but to ensure that local communities understand and can apply the
results. It notes CSIRO's recent practice of including and employing local
inhabitants in its surveys in the region. The committee was also impressed by
the approach taken by the MTSRF to involve local communities in their research
activities. For example, the committee supports the work being done by C
Company, 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment, in the
Torres Strait in helping researchers with their monitoring and reporting on
illegal fishing. It would like to see greater recognition for such work and,
where possible, every assistance and encouragement given to research institutes
to continue, as an integral part of their programs, to provide educational and
training opportunities for local people.
With regard to future funding for research, DEWHA informed the committee
that MTSRF had concluded its research program (with the exception of some
research synthesis products currently being developed) on 30 June 2010. It
explained that the intention was to continue funding environmental research in
the Torres Strait through a Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Hub. According
Expressions of Interest against specific research areas were
received from interested research institutions in May 2010. The research areas
included the Torres Strait. These are in the process of being assessed by DEWHA
and an expert scientific panel. It is intended that the successful applicants
will be contracted to commence this research by the end of 2010. Up to $7 million
per year will be allocated to this hub.
Two million dollars has been assigned to MTSRF as an extension of
current research funding arrangements to cover the transition to the new
The committee recognises the contribution that the MTSRF has made over
recent years to research in the Torres Strait. It particularly notes the
emphasis that the research institute has placed on engaging local communities
and would hope that future programs continue this practice. The committee
wishes to see these kinds of 'best practice' criteria taken into consideration
when the government assesses applications for research funding.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that when
allocating funding for research projects in the Torres Strait, relevant
agencies place a high priority on projects that demonstrate a commitment to
engaging local communities in the formulation and design of these projects and,
where possible, to training local Indigenous people in research techniques and
Working with PNG
To secure the cooperation of PNG communities in any conservation
measure, they need to feel that such measures will not disadvantage them. As
noted earlier, having PNG villagers work alongside Torres Strait Islanders in
implementing community management plans would provide the villagers with the opportunity
to gain an understanding of the reasons for imposing conservation measures. Similarly,
their involvement in joint research projects would not only strengthen their
appreciation of the long-term advantages of such measures but also encourage
greater compliance with, and support for, enforcing these measures. Also, involving
local PNG nationals in research is another means of building capacity on their side
of the border. For example, with regard to the Warrior Reef sandfish, Dr
Sheppard informed the committee that it was vitally important to continue
coordinated research with the PNG's National Fisheries Authority for its
Evidence suggested, however, that cooperation with PNG in the area of
research could be strengthened. For example, Mr Skewes, CSIRO, explained that
while they have conducted research on Warrior Reef sandfish fishery, 'much less
research' had been done on the Papua New Guinea side than on the Australian
side. He went on to say:
Where possible, we try to include Papua New Guinea when we do
our research and we do joint cruises. We have done at least one significant
joint cruise in the Torres Strait to do with the sea cucumber fishery.
Mr Skewes informed the committee that they had planned to conduct a
joint survey of bêche-de-mer
with their PNG counterparts in PNG in February 2010. He explained further that
although collaboration was looking 'a little bit difficult at the moment, they
would still endeavour to arrange a joint survey of the PNG and Australian side.
He explained that the AFMA and CSIRO co-invest some resources towards the
According to advice provided to the Torres Strait Scientific Advisory Committee
in June 2010, however, while PNG did carry out a survey of bêche-de-mer on the PNG
side of Warrior Reef, it was not in partnership with the CSIRO survey.
The MTSRF and the PNG Department of Environment have also conducted major
training exercises on Daru for both the Treaty village and Torres Strait hunters
on turtle take, their population trends, and turtle and dugong management
plans. Even so, Ms Morris noted that while there may have been meetings,
greater engagement was required:
Lots of meetings, no actual doing; this next phase is the
doing phase...They are hard to get in touch with sometimes...sometimes they are
difficult to communicate with...you do not get any resistance to cooperation and
everyone is relatively positive, except actually getting them to a place or organising
anything is a work in frustration—it takes a long time.
Some observations made during the 2010 dugong and turtle workshop held
in Daru indicated the importance of support for this type of collaborative activity.
For example, over 25 representatives from the Treaty villages attended the
meeting and voiced a strong desire for the program to continue. They also stressed
the need for continued communication with their communities and raised important
issues that could offer guidance for future research. For example, the workshop
report noted that economic realities may not give hunters the luxury to reduce their
take of turtle and dugong even if they wanted to do so, which produced
comments relating to other 'supplies of protein to replace marine turtle and
dugongs through government backed schemes'.
The potential for PNG villagers to guide and assist research in the
Torres Strait is considerable. Australia's aid program would appear to be an ideal
vehicle to enable them to make such a contribution. In its report on the
economic challenges facing PNG and the Pacific islands, the committee
considered in detail the work of ACIAR in the region, particularly in PNG. The
committee notes that restocking (especially of sea cucumber) is one of the
numerous research priorities that ACIAR has identified in PNG. Such research could
be carried out in conjunction with the work of CSIRO and MTSRF in the Torres
Strait and illustrates the scope for joint research projects.
The committee believes that the ground work started in the Torres Strait
with the development of community management plans and efforts to engage Treaty
villagers in the sustainable development of the region provides an ideal opportunity
for greater collaboration between Australian-funded research institutes working
in PNG with those working in the Torres Strait. The committee is of the view
that the Australian Government should provide assistance through its aid
program to facilitate and encourage the involvement of PNG Treaty villages in
the community management plans as a means to build capacity in PNG. It also
believes that the government should give priority to measures designed to
assist PNG communities to become active and constructive partners in the
effective operation of community management plans for the Torres Strait region.
In the committee's view, such assistance would go a long way toward achieving a
stronger partnership between Australia and PNG researchers and to build much
needed capacity in PNG that would enable its people to develop their marine
resources in a sustainable way.
The committee recommends that:
- As a high priority, the Australian Government consider engaging
AusAID and other Australian agencies working in PNG such as ACIAR as partners
with Australian research bodies working on the Australian side of the border. This
partnership, which would include local communities, would be designed to ensure
that work on the PNG side complements, builds on and reinforces the
conservation and biosecurity work being done on the Australian side.
- In line with this priority, the committee recommends that,
wherever practical, researchers or project officers working in the Torres
Strait are encouraged to establish or strengthen partnerships with counterparts
in PNG so that work on both sides of the border is complementary and builds
critical networks of researchers who are then well positioned to collaborate in
further research. AusAID could act as a key coordinator in forging these links.
The committee has concentrated on effective conservation through
community engagement in the preparation, formulation and implementation of
management plans. Unfortunately, measures such as awareness raising and garnering
local support for community management plans may not, by themselves, provide
sufficient incentive for all to participate in and observe sound management
practices. More coercive measures, including the enforcement of regulations
governing the harvesting of protected species, may be required.
Compliance and enforcement
A number of government agencies in the Torres Strait contribute to the
surveillance of activity and enforcement of laws relating to protected species.
Firstly, DEWHA monitors illegal fishing activity by obtaining intelligence
through a mix of sources—AFMA, the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol,
Border Protection Command and also through people in the communities.
DEWHA's compliance branch is generally responsible for taking action on such reports.
Ms Tania Rishniw, DEWHA, explained that the department's compliance focus
tends to be on activities and issues that fall under the EPBC Act. The Act
covers any listed migratory or marine species, including seabirds, dolphins or
other cetaceans, or any range of species that are protected as matters of
national environmental significance under the legislation.
AFMA has four officers in the Torres Strait involved in the management
of the fisheries. It also has two foreign compliance officers permanently
stationed there who look at illegal boat traffic through the Torres Strait.
The Torres Strait Hand Collectables Working Group reported that AFMA retains a
strong focus on responding to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing,
noting in particular additional surveillance activities in the Warrior Reef
The Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol also have compliance
officers in the Torres Strait. The catch taken in the Torres Strait is
monitored through the collection of daily fishing records from non-Islanders
and the records of sales of catch from Islander commercial fishers.
Where on-the-water engagement is required, the apprehension aspect of enforcement
with regard to foreign fishing vessels is primarily the responsibility of
Border Protection Command (BPC) and informed by AFMA as the management agency. BPC
is the central coordinating point and has responsibilities that are delegated
under legislation to undertake compliance activities on DEWHA's behalf.
This on-the-water enforcement extends beyond detecting and apprehending
those fishing illegally for protected species in the Torres Strait. It also
includes a range of other activities such as people smuggling and drug
trafficking. As such, BPC is considered in greater depth in the chapter dealing
with border control. At this stage, the committee notes, however, that because
of increased surveillance over recent years, there has been a significant
decrease in the number of illegal fishers detected in the Torres Strait.
Nonetheless, concerns remain about the lack of information on the unreported harvesting
of marine turtle, including their eggs, and of dugongs in the Torres Strait by
traditional inhabitants, especially poachers from the PNG side of the border.
The committee focused on three marine species in the Torres Strait that
require effective and sound management if their stocks are to remain viable
into the future—marine turtle, dugong and bêche-de-mer.
It found that the support and engagement of local communities in their
management was essential to protect these species from over exploitation and
stock depletion and, where necessary, to restore populations to sustainable
levels. Further, that local people need to be equipped with the scientific
knowledge to help them manage vulnerable species effectively. The development
of community management plans, employment of community rangers and engagement
of local people in research and monitoring projects requires the government's continuing
support. Although the committee focused on only three species, it understands
that this approach to community management also applies generally to the
protection of native flora and fauna in the Torres Strait.
The committee also recognised that the Torres Strait is a complex
eco-system and that people from both Australia and PNG hunt and fish in the
region. In this regard, Australia cannot by itself implement conservation
measures that would successfully remove concerns about the future health of
vulnerable stocks in the region. Any management plan in the Torres Strait
requires the involvement and cooperation of the PNG government and PNG traditional
inhabitants. The reports of illegal poaching make this particularly important.
Finally, the committee highlighted the importance of careful and
assiduous monitoring and assessment of marine life. It noted some key factors
that underscore the need for this level of attention and for continuing
research on marine resources in the Torres Strait. They include the unknown
level of harvest of protected species, illegal poaching, possible increase in
demand for these resources and climate change. Clearly, for some species,
especially with regard to marine turtles, time is of the utmost importance. The
committee has made recommendations:
- to ensure that there is adequate funding for targeted research on
native flora and fauna in the Torres Strait that are classified as vulnerable
for continued Commonwealth support for the ranger program;
- to redouble efforts with PNG to
- build capacity in the area of conservation research;
- involve and secure commitment from the PNG Government and local
inhabitants to work with Australia to ensure that the fauna and flora of the
Torres Strait does not suffer from over exploitation; and
to ensure that the work of AusAID, through Australian agencies in
PNG such as ACIAR, complements that of the research institutes working in the
Biosecurity is an important factor in protecting the environment from
harm. The following chapter considers threats to the environment introduced
from outside the region—noxious weeds, pests and diseases and pollution from
vessels passing through the straits.
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