Fijian and Australian Traditional Owners unite to expand knowledge of blue carbon restoration

As part of the Pacific Blue Carbon Program with Conservation International, Greening Australia and First Nations Communities welcomed government and community delegates from Fiji to far north Queensland for a Traditional Owner Blue Carbon Exchange Program.

The program supports cultural and restoration knowledge exchange between Australian and Fijian Traditional Owners and First Nations Communities working to restore blue carbon ecosystems.

Fijian delegates, Greening Australia and Conservation International staff and Girringun representatives pose for a group photo.

Image credit: Wombat Vision

Why blue carbon?

Blue carbon ecosystems sequester carbon 30-50 times faster than terrestrial forests and are globally recognised as a key nature based solution to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.

Participating Australian Traditional Owner groups included the Nywaigi People (represented by the Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corporation) and the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, who represent the interests of the nine Traditional Owner groups in the region – Nywaigi, Gugu Badhan, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Bandjin, Girramay, Gulngay, Jirrbaland Djiru peoples.

At Mungalla Station on Nywaigi Country, the participants discussed how reintroducing saltwater can be used to restore coastal blue carbon ecosystems such as wetlands and mangroves.

One such example is the Mungalla Blue Carbon project, which is delivered by Greening Australia in partnership with the Nywaigi Traditional Owners as part of long-term efforts to restore the property’s expansive wetlands.

Aerial view of mangrove forests and the coast in QLD

An aerial view of coastal mangrove systems feeding into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lagoon. Image credit: Wombat Vision.

Jacob Cassady, Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corporation Director said: “It is great to see Conservation International and Greening Australia working to make sure Indigenous people are at the forefront of these types of projects.”

“They are walking beside us as we develop our understanding of blue carbon. Cultural exchanges like this are one step in ensuring First Nations are involved from top to bottom in conservation on country.”

Workshops with Mungalla Blue Carbon project partners Birdlife Australia and James Cook University’s TropWater gave delegates the opportunity to explore monitoring techniques and hear more about the different environmental benefits that can arise from blue carbon restoration.

A group people look out to a wetland with their backs to the camera

Over 200 different species of birds have been recorded at Mungalla Station, where participants heard about the significant relationship between wetland health and bird numbers and diversity. Image credit: Wombat Vision.

Sharing learnings and successes

Travelling north to Cardwell on Girramay Country, the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation introduced the Fijian delegation to the role of Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers, the challenges and opportunities they’ve faced within mangrove restoration, and the Wabu Jananyu bushtucker nursery project.

Participants also explored the importance of protecting Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), and different governance structures present in Traditional Owner corporations and Communities in Australia.

Chris Muriata, Girringun Ranger Coordinator and joint acting Executive Officer, reflected on Girringun’s history and achievements to date.

“Girringun has been here for 30 years now, we’ve got our Elders to thank for a lot of that. It’s rewarding and humbling to know that we’re getting people from overseas visiting to see how far we’ve come.

“For Girringun it’s that sharing that we’re most proud of. We’re not going to keep everything held within our corporation, we want to see other groups and nations thrive to their full potential. If we can share what we’ve learnt it’s going to benefit everyone in the end,” Chris said.

Girringun Rangers sit in a car and share a laugh with a Fijian delegate

The Girringun Rangers and members of the Fijian delegation share a laugh while on the road to visit a nearby mangrove site. Image credit: Wombat Vision.

Moving forward hand in hand

For organisations like Greening Australia and Conservation International, it was chance to listen to the challenges and opportunities relating to blue carbon restoration identified by the Traditional Owners. It was also a valuable reminder that the role of partners is to walk alongside, not ahead of Traditional Owners and First Nations Communities when it comes to restoring and protecting ecosystems.

“A really big takeaway for me has been listening, we come in – especially as scientists – with preconceived ideas on how to do restoration and monitoring,” said Lynise Wearne, Associate Director of Water at Greening Australia.

“This trip for us has been about sitting back and listening to the Traditional Owners, learning about significant cultural practices, and hearing their perspectives on ecosystem restoration and its benefits.”

The final day of the exchange was spent celebrating cultures, sharing traditional practices and ceremonies, and reflecting on learnings to take home.

Fijian delegates in traditional dress perform a dance for Nywaigi Traditional Owners

The Fijian delegation performs a song to farewell their hosts at Mungalla Station on the final day. Image credit: Wombat Vision.

“Community leaders and members from Fiji were particularly impressed by the meticulous documentation of the traditional practices at Girringun, which ensures that their cultural practices are preserved and rightfully recognised as the intellectual property of the local Traditional Owners,” said Nikheel Sharma, Project Manager for the Blue Carbon Project at Conservation International Fiji Program.

“Communities were inspired by this, noting that it encouraged a more respectful and authentic integration of cultural and traditional knowledge, but also showcases how tradition can be preserved in a constantly changing modern setting.”
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