The Best Way to Regulate the Indigenous Dugong Harvest is to Let Tradition Run Its Course

by Wendy Noreña

Indigenous communities around increasingly finding that their traditional fishing practices clash with new, externally-imposed conservation policies and societal expectations. Finding an appropriate answer to these disagreements is difficult, especially since there are not enough data about most traditional, or even modern, marine fisheries to be able to create accurate scientific models that could help guide potential management strategies. Marsh et al. (2015) investigate the indigenous Dugong harvest in the Torres Straits, an area that spans the ocean space between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Northern Australian coast. Based on Marsh et al.’s preliminary research, the harvests here have been taking place for 4,000 to 7,000 years and have been “substantial,” for 400 to 500 years. With concerns about the conservation of ecosystems becoming more prevalent and politically involved, more and more people in Australia and PNG are calling for a ban or for restrictions to Dugong harvests. So far, regulations have already been set in place to limit hunting in certain areas and with certain equipment, but, because of the Australian Native Title Act, the Torres Strait islanders are lawfully allowed to hunt in what is known as their, “sea country,” as long as they follow a few restrictions. Marsh et al. argue that previous studies which stated that dugong harvests are largely unsustainable are actually incomplete due to the absence of good population and hunting data. Marsh et al. estimate that the Dugong harvest is sustainable and suggest that typical conservation methods should not be used to manage the Dugong harvests. Instead, they suggest that until sufficient data is available to use more popular management methods, a cultural reinforcement strategy currently in use, which involves ancient, traditional limitations on when, where, and how many Dugong can be harvested, should be implemented to manage this harvesting activity. These cultural reinforcements, driven by the indigenous communities themselves, must be coupled with detailed hunting reports as well as collaborations between government officials and indigenous leaders to create a more efficiently tailored management system for the dugong harvest. Continue reading

Sea-Level Rise Puts Indo-Pacific Mangrove Forests at Risk

by Grace Stewart

Mangroves provide an array of ecosystem services, from coastal protection to fishery support to carbon sequestration, all of which are at risk in the Indo-Pacific region due to sea-level rise (SLR). SLR can lead to inundation of these habitats and shoreline retreat. Lovelock et al. (2015) analyzed recent trends in mangrove surface elevation, finding that SLR could be combated when sediment availability allowed for soil-surface elevation gain at a rate that exceeded SLR. However, in 69% of the sites studied, SLR rate was exceeding the rate of soil-surface elevation gain. Lovelock et al. also presented a model based on field data that suggests submergence of forests with low tidal range and low sediment supply as early as 2070. Continue reading