Improved on-ground biodiversity monitoring

8 August 2012

I-Tracker is a project that supports Indigenous land and sea managers across north Australia to undertake natural and cultural resource monitoring, research and management activities using digital technology and equipment.

NAILSMA’s I-Tracker project provides training and ongoing technical support to Traditional Owners and Indigenous ranger groups. It involves using rugged hand-held field computers loaded with the internationally acclaimed CyberTracker software and customised data collection applications.

As part of this program the NERP NAH Partnerships and tools to support biodiversity monitoring by Indigenous land and sea managers project is:

  • Creating research partnerships that promote the development of community research, monitoring capacity and Indigenous livelihoods based on caring for country.
  • Doing action research to develop monitoring tools that support community-based and scientifically robust biodiversity monitoring programs for Indigenous land and sea managers.

The Saltwater component of the project revolves around marine species survey tools. It recognises that dugong and marine turtles are priority species in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous conservation and management plans, however existing survey methodology involves aerial counts for dugongs and beach surveys for nesting turtles, which are both expensive and generally exclude participation by community rangers.

A boat-based survey method is being trialled to allow rangers and community members to actively participate in the scientific process by formally monitoring species that have always been important to them, leading to the accumulation of more and better scientific data. CSIRO is helping to provide scientific support for development of the survey tools and data analysis.

Researchers have been working with Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation’s Uunguu rangers (Kalumburu, WA) to develop the Mangguru (marine turtles) and Balguja (dugong) Monitoring Project. This project supports Target 10 of the Wunumbal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan, which was developed locally by the Traditional Owners of that area and identifies monitoring of turtle and dugong populations as being important to the community.

Through this project a specialised I-Tracker application that is community-friendly and supports accurate spatial and temporal data collection is being developed.

An initial field trip in May 2012 focusing on Napier Broome Bay and Vansittart Bay near Kalumburu in Western Australia brought together members of the Wunumbal Gaambera community, the Uunguu rangers, NAILSMA and CSIRO. It included planning, feedback, knowledge mapping and future directions workshops at the base camp.

Community members were invited to the workshops and contributed local knowledge and shared comments on the planned trips and the I-Tracker application. They also talked about where they expect to see turtles, dugongs, seagrass and reefs in the area.

The trip also included three days of intensive field surveys for trialing and refining the boat-based count method. Two boats were used by seven Uunguu rangers, two NAILSMA staff, one CSIRO staff and one local Traditional Owner. The surveys covered the areas around the Anjo Peninsula, with a focus on the high density turtle area around Mary Island, where planned transects were carried out on the third day. Participants camped at McGowan Island and enjoyed catering from community members throughout the week.

Population-level data analysis from the trip has been completed with support from CSIRO, and the Uunguu rangers are currently planning ongoing surveys in the area along the transects developed during this field work.

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