Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, 12 Indigenous Australians are embarking on a course this year that combines the knowledge of their elders and their connection with their country with the theory and science of conservation and land management.
The Sea Rangers program is a partnership between the Bundi Yamatji Aboriginal Corporation (the registered native title body corporate nominated as trustee of the local Yamatji Nation’s native title), the Yamatji Southern Regional Corporation, Central Regional TAFE, and Parks Australia, with additional support from the University of Western Australia.
Maryke Gray is a Conservation and Ecosystem Management Lecturer at Central Regional TAFE in Geraldton, and runs the program based at the Batavia Coast Maritime Institute.
She says the Sea Ranger program supports Yamatji people to build on existing connections to their sea country.
“The program focuses on supporting the aspirations of the Yamatji people so they can fulfill a more active role in managing their sea country. So, taking the theory that students are learning in the classroom and taking it on-country so they can learn through practical projects. We’re working with the elders and the local community so that it becomes a two-way model of learning.”
The Sea Rangers have been conducting marine surveys; monitoring wildlife, plant life, marine debris and more, across local beaches and harbours, and biodiversity haven, the Abrolhos Islands, the largest and most species rich seabird breeding area in the eastern Indian Ocean. Maryke says the program is important not only for the future well-being of the local natural environment, but the value it provides the passionate indigenous students in the program, who are keen to blend traditional and contemporary expressions of Yamatji culture with contemporary industry skills and knowledge.
“The students are learning technical skills, including marine survey techniques, also marine conservation, and land management techniques. They’re also learning softer skills. So, time management, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, and that’s all helping them build their confidence to be able to work together as a team and to work together on-country.”
Destiny McIntosh is a Wajarri woman from the Yamatji region, and one of the passionate students taking part in the program. Destiny says one of the programs strengths is its diversity. From day to day, Destiny could be learning to drive commercial boats, identifying, and managing local weed species, and even working with government departments to study local wildlife.
“Recently, one of the things that the Rangers were involved in was that we would fly over to the Abrolhos Islands, and we would work with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. We (were) invited onto one of their Parks and Wildlife boats and we’d go out to different islands around there (and) survey some sea lion pups. So, we would capture the pups and we would take some biopsies from them.”
Destiny says the training and experiences she’s had in the program have been supported by the connections she’s made.
“I get to be involved with people of different tribal groups and I get to be involved on my land as well within the Yamatji region … and I get to connect back with country and that is something that I love. I’m very passionate about that.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Bianca Berg, Yamatji Southern Regional Corporation’s Marine Parks Project coordinator for the Sea Rangers program.
“The Sea Ranger program is really important because country is very important to us, and we would love to have local people looking after the local country. And we’re also really keen to get involved with elders to come and share their traditional knowledge with us.
“So, we would like to focus on two-way learning between traditional knowledge from local elders and the local training organization and government departments focusing on-country and getting the best outcomes for local people and for our local country.”
The program runs for two years, with Destiny and her peers set to complete the program at the end of 2024.