Tracking Turtles on Wunambal Gaambera Wundaagu (sea country) is a Joint Effort

Mangguru (marine turtles) are important cultural foods especially for cultural gatherings. However presently, we (Wunambal Gaambera people) are concerned about threats to these species. It is our responsibility to look after mangguru as set out in our Wundaagu (saltwater) Plan of Management. Our Uunguu Rangers are monitoring the health of mangguru in Australia and international waters where mangguru migrate using a range of activities.

In October 2019, Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) and Marine Parks Australia, established a partnership to ensure traditional knowledge is reflected in the management of the Wunambal Gaambera wundaagu within the Kimberley Marine Park, 5.5km offshore of WA.

Under this partnership, a mangguru research project, part of WGAC’s Healthy Country Plan, was established and supported by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), with the aim of increasing understanding of the critically endangered maral (hawksbill turtle) nesting, foraging and migratory paths in the north Kimberley. The project also focuses on building Uunguu Ranger monitoring and tracking skills and recording other turtle activity.

Uunguu Rangers and Wunambal Gaambera Traditional Owners with DBCA marine scientists have done several field trips to map marine turtle nesting habitats, including an aerial survey. During these trips, rangers surveyed turtle nesting beaches along the Uunguu Coast, including at Jones Island and Troughton Island, collected genetic samples and in November last year at Jones Island, while not finding maral, took the opportunity to attach satellite trackers to nesting juluwarra/ganmulu (green turtles).

Uunguu Ranger, Damon Bundamurra talks about his recent trip to Jones Island to attach the satellite trackers to the three juluwarra/ganmulu.

“It was so good to be up close and next to the turtles.

We camped on Jones Island for 2 nights and had to stay up all night walking around. So when the turtles did head out to sea it was really exciting.”

Satellite data to date has provided an exciting insight into the life of these turtles and what they get up to in and around Wunambal Gaambera wundaagu, and in one juluwarra/ganmulu’s case, further afield to Queensland.

Shelly or Gurdulu (turtle shell in Wunambal Gaambera language), one of three tagged juluwarra / ganmulu, has made an incredible migration, over 2,600km from Wunambal Gaambera wundaagu (saltwater) country in the far north Kimberley all the way to the Wellesley Island Group in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland. Of the other two juluwarra/ganmulu one has settled in at Garig Gunack Barlu National Park at Cobourg Peninsula while the other is still moving east along the NT coast near Darwin. 

The extent of this incredible migration by Shelly, which includes different Traditional Owner saltwater country, highlights one of the challenges Indigenous ranger groups and healthy country teams have monitoring and protecting mangguru.

Follow the three juluwarra /ganmulu from Wunambal Gaambera wundaagu  – named Shelly, or Gurdulu (meaning turtle shell in Wunambal Gaambera language) and Keegan who were named by the Kalumburu school children where many of the Wunambal Gaambera kids attend school. The third turtle, Arudjiriba (language name for Jones Island where the turtle was found) has been named by Marine Parks Australia, as we work towards collaborative management of the Kimberley Marine Park.

Programs like the Kimberley Indigenous Turtle and Dugong Initiative 2022-2032  an initiative instigated by the Indigenous Saltwater Advisory Group of which WGAC is a member with other Kimberley Saltwater Traditional Owner groups, is a step in the right direction to protecting these species. This initiative aims for an Indigenous-led regional management approach for turtle and dugong across Kimberley saltwater country.

Track Wunambal Gaambera’s juluwarra / ganmulu here:

NB only 1 turtle currently working.

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