Wessel Marine Park
Wessel Marine Park, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, lies offshore from the tip of the Wessel Islands to Cape Arnhem.
The Yolŋu people are the traditional owners in this area. They care passionately for their sea country and have three ranger groups (Gummur Marthakal, Yirralka and Dhimurru Rangers) working here.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) overlaps part of Wessel Marine Park and was the first IPA to include sea country extending into Commonwealth waters.
The marine park protects inter-nesting habitat for turtles, a place for the females to replenish themselves between laying each of their huge clutches of eggs on a nearby beach.
It also protects the Arafura Sill, a seafloor barrier restricting movement of water into the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The sill forms a transition zone for marine life, with different communities of sponges, corals and fishes on either side.
Wessel Marine Park covers 5908 square kilometres, with depths from 15 metres to 70 metres.
The marine park includes a Habitat Protection Zone. While some types of commercial fishing are allowed in the Habitat Protection Zone, others are restricted in order to protect important habitats.
The marine park also includes a Special Purpose (Trawl) zone.
A great way to experience this area is to join a marine conservation project run by Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation in partnership with Conservation Volunteers Australia.
Yolŋu Traditional Owners and Custodians have a holistic world-view of ‘country’ (including sea country) as a cultural space, integrating:
- land and sea areas
- cultural beliefs
- practices and obligations
- animals, plants, ecosystems and ecological processes.
Cultural values are underpinned by the five dimensions of the Yolŋu Rom (law). These are:
- manikay (clan songs)
- wäŋa (home, land)
- Dhäwu (stories, history)
- miny’tji (totemic designs)
- gurrutu (kinship).
Both ways learning
The Yolŋu people initiated and encourage ‘both ways learning’ in their region, bringing living cultural practices and traditional knowledge together with western ways, leading to great management outcomes.
In March 2017 ranger groups, including Dhimurru, Yirralka and Gumurr Marthakal rangers, came together with other land managers and scientists for a ‘both ways learning’ workshop.
Participants shared traditional knowledge and understanding of dolphins and turtles in the region with additional information gathered from recent aerial surveys.
The workshop was a powerful collaboration and sets directions for successful ‘both ways management’ work in the region.
Ghost net success
Ghost nets are discarded or abandoned fishing nets drifting at sea.
They entangle turtles and other marine life and are a serious navigational hazard for vessels.
Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area and Wessel Marine Park lie in a hotspot for ghost nets. Nets from Arafura Sea fisheries get washed into the Gulf of Carpentaria during the monsoon season before being blown onto the coast by south-east trade winds during the dry season.
Dhimurru, Yirralka and Gumurr Marthakal rangers are actively involved in ghost net management.
They are part of GhostNets Australia, an alliance of Indigenous communities along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria working to solve the ghost net problem.
Successes to date include:
- significantly increasing knowledge about where ghost nets come from
- removing 14,000 nets from the coast
- rescuing 400 entangled turtles
- raising awareness through GhostNet Art.
Click on the map below to see what you can do in the Wessel Marine Park.
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