December 18, 2017

PNG community leader says education is key to halting illegal dugong hunters in Torres Strait

The head of Cairns’ Papua New Guinean community has called for better education for those living on both sides of the border in the Torres Strait to manage traditional take of dugongs.

The Australian Crime Intelligence Commission’s $2 million (US$1.5 million) investigation into the illegal trade of dugong and sea turtle meat in the Far North found that hunters from PNG’s Treaty Villages were targeting dugongs outside the provisions of the Torres Strait Treaty.

The Cairns Post reported Monday that the commission feared this illegal activity could contribute to dwindling populations of the species in the region.

PNG and Wantoks Association Cairns president Dianne Austrai-Ombiga believed education was key to preventing the conflict over wildlife management at the border between Australia and PNG from continuing.

“I think people on the PNG Western Province border need to be educated about the treaty,” she said.

“There are conditions of that treaty, and they need to be clearly understood.

“If that’s not understood, then an effort needs to be made to educate all people on both sides of the border, to understand that.”

When contacted yesterday, Greenpeace said it did not know enough about the issue to comment directly.

But Greenpeace senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said the organisation respected and supported the rights of indigenous peoples to pursue cultural activities, including hunting and traditional resource management.

“Experts say dugongs are doing better in areas like the Torres Strait and Far North than they are in more urban environments where habitat loss, and ship strike is the major threat to them,” he said.

“The Torres Strait supports the world’s biggest dugong population and hunting has been carried out there for thousands of years prior to colonisation.