DUGONGS AND TURTLES

INDIGENOUS SLAUGHTER OF ENDANGERED SPECIES HAS TO END.

Australians for Animals firmly believes Native Title cannot be allowed to trump the protection of our wildlife. The laws which protect our unique and rapidly disappearing wildlife must cover every Australian, indigenous and white alike.

indigenous-dugong-hunting

Endangered means endangered. There must be no slaughter. In Australia, the killing of endangered dugongs, turtles and other species under the protection of native title is un-monitored, un-regulated and carried out with many instances of extreme cruelty.

In a newspaper article dated 15 April 2010, Dr Mark Read of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimated that there were 11,300 dugongs in the Marine Park with a maximum of 120 dugongs that could be sustainably hunted throughout the reef.

Perhaps Dr Read hadn’t read a 2003 report by the Federal Government entitled – National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey which said:-

Indigenous fishers harvested a range of species that are prohibited for non-indigenous Australians These species included reptiles (crocodiles, turtles) and mammals (dugong). It was estimated that indigenous fishers harvested about 390 crocodile, 1,600 dugong, 6,000 saltwater turtle, 14,000 freshwater turtle and 40,000 turtle eggs during the survey year. Dugong were taken in all States/ Territory with largest numbers (1,300 dugong) being reported from Queensland.

In 2009, according to the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, 1,293 dugong were “ harvested” in Queensland.

This horrendous slaughter of dugongs in Queensland is unsustainable. Yet these figures failed to persuade the Federal government to take any action to arrest the slaughter of these defenceless animals in spite of massive damage by Cyclone Yasi followed by major flooding events wiping out seagrass beds.

In the 21st century, not only must the Native Title right to slaughter endangered species be prohibited but traditional methods of killing are no longer acceptable or appropriate. The cruelty being perpetrated on dugongs and turtles must end.

The best current research estimates suggest that the numbers of green turtles could be as high as 100,000 annually. An out of date report indicates an annual slaughter of 1,500 or more dugongs in Torres Strait alone.

Dugongs are gentle creatures who are dedicated to their young. Their habitat and prey, seagrass, is critically important as fish nurseries and as a carbon sink. They should not be slaughtered to celebrate culture. Dugongs have a right to exist and future generations have a right to expect the protection of endangered animals.

“ All that will be left are the sounds of silence.”

These are the prophetic words of Aunty Mary, an elder with the Mandubarra people of Innisfail.
Aunty Mary, who along with other Aboriginal elders, is deeply concerned by the ongoing slaughter of dugongs and turtles by many indigenous people.

Ongoing efforts by State and Federal governments to transform Australia into the world’s quarry will have massive impacts on the ocean environment of both the east and west coast.

Now is the time to get involved ! Healthy oceans are the source of all life.

DUGONG CRUELTY

Under the Native Title Act 1993, native title holders can legally hunt dugongs and green turtles for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.
But RSPCA Queensland spokesman Michael Beatty said the RSPCA wanted state laws amended to remove the exemption for traditional hunting to ensure the humane killing of animals.
Queensland government has amended the state laws but no charges have been laid against any indigenous people who continue to perpetrate abysmal cruelty on dugongs and turtles.

Mr Beatty said that, when hunted, green sea turtles often had their flippers cut off while they were still alive and were then left on beaches in the sun. He said live dugongs were often tied to wharves and had parts of their flesh cut off intermittently to keep the meat fresh.

DUGONG DHARMA

Once upon a time, dugongs were plentiful off the east coast of Australia.

They were times before humanity’s greed overwhelmed the environment, destroying the precious natural heritage of our world.

“ One of the fishermen of Wide Bay told the writer.. he had seen a mob of dugong which appeared to fill the water with their bodies. He computed this school to be half a mile wide and from three to four miles long. The writer’s boat once anchored in Hervey Bay, in one of those channels through which the tide passes when running off the flats. For between three and four hours there was a continuous stream of dugong passing while the tide went out, which those in the boat could only liken to a rush of cattle out of a stockyard after a general muster.. some thousands must have gone out with the tide.”

Dugong females are devoted to their young. They remain together during the long period of calf dependency, their young rarely straying more than 1-3 body lengths from their mothers. They communicate with vocalisations. When travelling, calves often swim above their mothers reducing their visibility to predators.

Dugongs spend a large part of their day feeding on seagrass. When shipping traffic and other human-related activities disturb their feeding, dugongs may find it difficult to feed long enough to satisfy their nutritional needs. The problem is much worse when their food supply is limited as it is now as a result of Cyclone Yasi and major floods over recent years.

The inter-connectedness between dugongs and seagrass is a wonderful example of nature’s bio-feedback mechanisms. Dugong faeces provide a nutrient source to the seagrass they feed on, maintaining local patches and ensuring vibrant seagrass beds which in turn provide a nursery for fish stock.

Without dugongs and turtles munching on seagrass beds, depositing their faeces to provide the necessary nutrients, coastal fish nurseries are significantly impacted.

We know from concerned indigenous leaders there’s a roaring trade in illegal dugong meat coming from the Torres Strait to Queensland where many Islanders now live.

There has never been a more desperate need for a total ban on the killing of dugongs in Australian waters.

DUGONG MORTALITY

After Cyclone Yasi, fishermen reported emaciated, sick, lethargic dugongs and turtles with insufficient energy to escape from any accidental netting.

No moratorium on the hunting of dugong was declared by the Queensland or Federal Governments.

With growing evidence of the destruction of intertidal seagrass beds and seed banks by the cyclones in early 2011, the future survival of dugongs along the urban stretch of coastline is of major concern. Prior to the cyclones, dugong expert Professor Helene Marsh assessed dugongs in this region as ‘Critically Endangered’22.

‘Assessment: We subdivided this region for our assessment because of the size of the dugong’s range and the spatial variability of impacts (Table 8.5; Figure 8.7b): (1) urban coast of Queensland: Critically Endangered; (2) northern Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait: Vulnerable; (3) the northern tip of Cape York west to the Northern Territory border: Data Deficient; (4) north-west Cape to Shark Bay in Western Australia: Least Concern.’

Jackson et al. (2001)23 documented the declining numbers and the ramifications to the marine ecosystem: ‘Further north, numbers of dugongs in the vast southern half of the Great Barrier Reef had dwindled to fewer than 4000 when they were first accurately counted in 1986-87, with a further 50 to 80% decline in recent years (72). These increasingly fragmented populations represent the last remnants of the vast herds of the early 19th century and before.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Report 2009:

‘The recovery of dugongs along the urban coast will be influenced by the state of seagrass habitats, their principal food source. Inshore seagrass beds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance and loss due to coastal activities such as reclamation, dredging and other foreshore development, increased sedimentation and degraded water quality.

The Report assesses recovery of the urban coast dugong population as poor and very prolonged: ‘may take more than a century to recover and is subject to many continuing pressures.’

Scientists recommended urgent surveys be undertaken to establish the location of any viable seagrass beds, ensuring these areas are given immediate protection until such time as the ongoing crises are resolved.

NO ACTION WAS TAKEN BY THE QUEENSLAND OR FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS.

GLADSTONE.

The deliberate extermination of the dugong and turtles which habituated the Gladstone area is a national tragedy.

These are species listed under the Federal Environment Protection Biodiversity & Conservation Act.
That listing means the Federal government has a legal obligation to protect these animals.
Prior to the massive dredging operation of 52 million cubic metres of seabed for the development of the world’s largest LNG Terminal, ( which is 62% completed) a study commissioned by the Gladstone Ports Corporation found that a take, or a quota, of more than zero dugongs would be unsustainable.

In the face of massive mortality of dugongs, turtles and inshore dolphins during the ongoing massive dredging, both the Federal and Queensland governments ignored the slaughter.

Look at the stranding data from the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management.

dugong-strandings-graph

Monthly cumulative dugong strandings by year for Queensland, up to 31 January 2012.
(only cases confirmed in the field by a trained person, and later verified by an expert are included)

There are 22,000 vessel movements a month in Gladstone Harbour. No ship strikes of dugongs and turtles need to be reported.

No audit of environmental conditions has been undertaken by the Queensland or Federal Governments.

The wholesale slaughter of our marine wildlife is the price Australians are paying for the transformation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area into the world’s largest un-regulated quarry.

ACTION.

Australians, in general, are fed up with our political parties, our political leaders, the scientific community and the media.

The apathy with which the ongoing destruction of Australia’s environmental heritage is greeted by those in power is tragic, stupid, arrogant and irresponsible.

Unless the politicians are deluged with protest, nothing will change. Money dictates politics and who cares about the future as long as these people can keep their parliamentary seats warm and the big money flowing.

Petitions don’t help. Emails are useful if there’s hundreds of them. It’s time to sit down and write your own letter of protest. It doesn’t have to be long, short and sweet is better.

Or use Twitter !

Write to Minister Tony Burke at Parliament House, Canberra. 2600
tony.burke.mp@environment.gov.au.
Twitter @Tony_Burke

Write to Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, Parliament House, Canberra. 2600
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
Parliament House
RG109
Canberra ACT 2600

Write to Greg Hunt, Shadow Environment Minister, Parliament House, Canberra. 2600
Twitter: @GregHuntMP

SEND AS MANY LETTERS AND TWEETS AS YOU CAN TO PM GILLARD AND PREMIER NEWMAN WHO ARE LEADING THE MOST ANTI ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNMENTS THIS COUNTRY HAS SEEN.

PM Gillard – Parliament House, Canberra. 2600
Twitter :- @JuliaGillard

Premier Campbell Newman.
PO Box 15185
City East
Queensland 4002

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