Traditional Owner stewardship of sea country is empowered through a science and management partnership on the Great Barrier Reef

Mr Bob Muir1,2, Ms Traceylee Forester1, Ms Elliette Duggan1, Mr John Tapim3, Ms Elizabeth Evans-Illidge1

1Australian Institute Of Marine Science, Townsville, Australia, 2Woppaburra TUMRA Steering Committee, Rockhampton, Australia, 3Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Australia


Woppaburra Traditional Owners of the Keppel Islands and surrounding sea country have been on a journey of re-connection and re-empowerment regarding land and sea country since 19 ancestors, the last on-country residents, were forcefully removed from country in 1902.  A major milestone for the Woppaburra’s re-connection to sea-country, was developing a Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement (TUMRA) covering 561 km2, accredited in 2007 by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Queensland government.  Woppaburra’s  3rd TUMRA agreement includes arrangements for exchanging knowledge with scientists, managing activities including traditional hunting, and undertaking marine monitoring and compliance training. Woppaburra were the first TUMRA group to develop specific heritage assessment guidelines (Woppaburra Traditional Owner Heritage Assessment Guidelines).  These inform marine scientists considering research within the TUMRA area about Woppaburra heritage values, guides them in engagement and consultation with Woppaburra, and ensures GBRMPA takes heritage values and the consultation outcomes into account when assessing permit applications.  Over a three-year period, this process has facilitated development of a sound and respectful relationship between the Woppaburra TUMRA Steering Committee and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), culminating in the development of an impactful partnership.  Following the principles of co-design and two-way learning, the partnership has already achieved significant and at times unexpected outcomes; including the evolution of contemporary culture.  A newly developed Woppaburra dance tells the scientific story of coral dispersal, adaptation and resilience, in parallel to the story of the dispersal, resilience and survival of the Woppaburra people since 1902.  AIMS and Woppaburra have now embarked on a multi-year research program to understand the drivers of coral survival and growth in the region.  The program includes accredited training, employment, and capacity building opportunities for Traditional Owners, as well as integrating traditional knowledge with modern science for management outcomes.


Bob Muir is a Woppaburra elder and Traditional Owner of the Keppel Islands, southern Great Barrier Reef.  He is currently employed at AIMS He has acquired diverse work experience.  Since 14yrs old he has worked used gelignite in opal mining, pit crew, furniture removalist, deck hand, Barra fishermen, meatworker all before he was 17. Since then he has worked smarter not harder and has been employed as a Community Development Officer with Rockhampton City Council and is currently employed at AIMS co-leading a major coral research research project in the Keppel Islands.   Bob has a vision for the future involved with the Woppaburra people developing businesses on Woppa (Great Keppel Island) in tourism, accommodation, entertainment, education supporting schools, healing retreats, rangers for working on sea country, research and surveys of sea country, walking tracks, weeds, fire management, cultural heritage management. Also supporting the North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre, QLD National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. He doesn’t plan to retire just doesn’t see it happening.


Traceylee Forester is a Lama Lama Traditional Owner of Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York and a Nywaigi Traditional Owner from near Ingham.   Traceylee is passionate about assisting Traditional Owners to share their knowledge, experience and wisdom of our natural environment with others.  She is currently working with Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), as their first Indigenous Partnerships Coordinator.  In this role she assists AIMS scientists to build partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Northern Australia, particularly in regards to the collaboration of Western Science and Traditional Owner Science.  Prior to joining AIMS, Traceylee spent six years on-country co-ordinating the Lama Lama Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement (TUMRA) with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Junior Ranger program.  Prior to that she held the position of secretariat for the Uluru Kata Tjuta board of co-management.