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Sailors' friends under threat - turtles and dugongs

by Grant Banks, Torres News/Sail-World Cruising on 22 May 2011
Dugong and swimmer .. .

Sailors love to swim among them or just marvel from the bow, but the future of turtles and dugongs is anything but certain, according to conservationist New Zealander Peter Bethune.

Bethune is best known for his arrest by the Japanese whalers after they rammed and sank his 'whale warrier' boat Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean.

And it's Australia that comes in for his highest criticism. 'Even third-world countries manage their fisheries better than Australia,' he told a meeting in Cairns recently.

As an example, he quoted the case of The Solomon Islands to Torres News. 'The Solomon Islands - on Australia’s doorstep and a great deal poorer - has recognised the need for protection for these species and has already banned the hunting of turtle and dugong.'

He made the statements at a recent meeting of conservationists, politicians and animal rights groups who met in Cairns in North Queensland to discuss the hunting and trade of sea turtles and dugong in north Queensland and the Torres Strait.

One of the challenges for the meeting was how to protect the sealife while also preserving the rights of the Torres Strait Islanders and Australian Aborigines, through their Native Title entitlements.

Some took a hard-line stance on the issue saying they would like to see the current legislation changed to remove all Native Title rights involving any endangered species within Australia.

Mr Bethune said: 'There’s a gaping wound in this country(Australia) today, and, those with the power to change things, need to address it urgently,' he said.

'The Native Title Act and Animal Care Act are failing endangered species entirely; that dugongs and sea turtles continue to be hunted in Australian waters and killed using such disgusting methods under the guise of customary rights is a disgrace.'

Member for Leichardt Warren Entsch fought to ensure the on-going Native Title entitlements of Torres Strait islander people saying that without his input at the meeting a much different outcome would have been reached. Even so - he said that the conservation of these species needs to be ensured.

'I want to empower the Elders by providing them with Legislation that allows the Elders to manage the conservation of sea turtle and dugong.'

He said that this would require an initial survey of sea turtle and dugong numbers - to be carried out by government and indigenous parties.

Greg Hunt, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, asked for an immediate voluntary 90% reduction in dugong and turtle hunting numbers, and failing that, said that a total ban on the hunting of all turtles and dugongs would be the only solution.

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