Traditional Owners and scientists feature in new film on the Moonaboola (Mary River) project

30 May 2024

Our project partners, the Burnett Mary Regional Group, have just released a stunning 7-minute film about the iconic species living in Queensland’s Moonaboola (Mary River catchment). 

Traditional Owners and scientists feature in a powerful video about Queensland’s iconic Mary River (Moonaboola), released this week by peak natural resource management body, the Burnett Mary Regional Group (BMRG).

BMRG are working with Traditional Owners, scientists, government agencies, catchment natural resource management groups, and landholders on a project partly funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program’s Resilient Landscapes Hub. Together, they’re focused on how the catchment can recover from recent extreme events, and be resilient into the future.

As Tom Ryan, local landowner said: “Ring Bark the trees, clear the scrub to grow grass for the cattle… What about protection of the waterways? What about the erosion that’s going to push into the rivers? The damage we’ve done in the last 150 years, is seriously bad.”

Professor Mark Kennard, Griffith University and NESP researcher added: “There’s been a bit of work done over the years to try and improve the health of the river, but I’m concerned this might be our last, best chance to make a difference.”

Showcasing special species

The 7-minute video showcases the first comprehensive mapping of rare turtle and fish species, now facing multiple threats, including climate change.

“I think we need to seize the moment now before we lose species that I think we could all enjoy and care about,” said Professor Kennard, who joined others in the video calling for greater protections for species such as the Australian Lungfish.

“Species like the Australian lungfish have been described as a living fossil, unchanged from the fossil record of more than 150 million years ago,” said Professor Kennard.

“So, this river is a part of the heritage of Australia,” he added.

Surveying the river

With funding from the Australian and Queensland governments, the 2-month survey was the most significant species mapping ever done for the Mary River.   

“We’ve sampled 60-odd sites in eight weeks,” said BMRG’s Senior Research Manager, Dr. Dave Sternberg. “We’ve used traditional methods like electrofishing and fyke netting, paired with new science like environmental DNA,” he explained.

The 2-month survey was an unprecedented collaboration, bringing together leading ecologists, and representatives from Traditional Owners groups. 

“This process actually started with BMRG engaging with all those Traditional Owner groups,” said Jinibara elder, Uncle Colin Ross. “200 years ago, people were taken out of the country. This is about bringing people back,” he said.  

Jinibara Traditional Owner Jason Murphy added, “It is collecting information that makes good medicine for country.”

“We need to use the old science and the new science – combine the two into one science, and make something positive happen quickly,” said BMRG’s CEO Tom Espinoza, who produced the video to highlight the urgent need to protect the Mary River’s iconic species.

“Science, threatened species, and habitat restoration have not been traditionally well funded. It’s our job to ensure that funding is directed towards meaningful environmental restoration,” said Mr Espinoza.

Next steps for research in Moonaboola

In coming weeks, BMRG will analyse and publish the results of the survey to inform future management interventions.

“Initial observations suggests invasive species may have become much more widespread in the catchment. We will release full details once the data is peer-reviewed,” said Mr. Espinoza.

“The story is not finished yet. This is just the start. We have plenty of work to do to ensure this river and its globally significant species like the lungfish and the Mary River Turtle are here for generations to come,” he concluded.

This media release was first published on the Burnett Mary Regional Group’s website. 

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