Strong Regional and Community-based Management Capacity
Sustainable land and sea management in Torres Strait must occur through an Indigenous-led, collaborative process, that empowers Traditional Owners in planning, management, and all levels of decision-making. The region has a proud record of developing and implementing community- based planning and management approaches, acknowledging the critical role of Traditional Owners as local custodians of their traditional estates.
Meaningful engagement through co-designed processes, two-way learning and capacity building is important to ensure the effective ongoing integration of science and customary knowledge in management arrangements. Continuing custodianship of land and sea country in Torres Strait also depends on strong leadership by Elders supported by traditional governance systems to regulate resource use and protect cultural values.
The recognition of native title across the region (following the Mabo decision in 1992) has led to the establishment of 21 corporations to hold and manage native title on behalf of Traditional Owners. These Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBCs) work with Elders, communities, other parties, and all layers of government to protect and exercise native title rights and interests over islands and sea country.
The LSMU is supporting Indigenous-led, sustainable management of the region’s 16 key cultural and natural values consistent with the vision, guiding principles and management directions in the Land and Sea Management Strategy for Torres Strait. A significant area of focus and investment is on building regional and local capacity to address priorities in the Strategy.
Sixty rangers are now employed across all 14 outer island communities to carry out cultural and natural resource management activities on behalf of Traditional Owners. Rangers have participated in 16 units of training that are accredited towards the Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management, as well as the Certificate IV level in Regulatory Compliance. Rangers can operate under both customary lore and relevant Commonwealth and State laws through established relationships with relevant regulatory agencies.
What is already happening?
Community feedback and consultation to date indicates that many Elders support the current arrangements for land and sea management in the region. However, opportunities have been identified to further strengthen Traditional Owner involvement in all aspects of program delivery.
The compliance program is helping to reinforce customary laws and decision-making processes in relation to land and sea management, while it is building ranger capacity for greater involvement in co-management of the Torres Strait Protected Zone.
In recent years, there has been a 125% increase in the number of women rangers employed in the region. Updated Working on Country Plans that guide ranger work on the islands include more strategies that involve rangers working with RNTBCs.
What could happen?
The ongoing delivery of ranger and compliance management services is vital for ensuring enduring regional capability to address key strategic national priorities and to protect the region’s unique biocultural values.
There is significant potential to enhance the involvement of Indigenous partner organisations engaged in land and sea management in the region, thereby building local and regional capacity in a way that aligns with cultural protocols, respects and integrates local Indigenous knowledge, and addresses local priorities.
Building capacity and securing resources for the Kaiwalagal region to address some of the most intense natural resource management challenges in Torres Strait– i.e., cane toads, increased development pressure, feral animals and weeds, waste and fire management – is also a priority for the future.