Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teens merge traditional ecological knowledge with marine science on Orpheus Island

Few get to experience Orpheus Island in their lifetime, but this weekend a team of 40 high school students embark on an overnight trip to the island on the Great Barrier Reef as the very first participants in the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science (ATSIMS) initiative.

ATSIMS students at Thuringowa State High

ATSIMS students at Thuringowa State High

Situated within the traditional sea country of the Manburra people and boasting a world-class marine research station run by James Cook University (JCU), Orpheus Island provides the selected year 9 and 10 Townsville-based students with the unique opportunity to study coral reefs firsthand, alongside coral reef scientists and Australian Aboriginal Elders.

Founding Director of ATSIMS, Joseph Pollock, says the initiative is vital for future coral reef research.

“There is so much to gain from merging western marine science with the traditional ecological knowledge possessed by the more than 70 traditional owner groups along the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Pollock said.

Mr Pollock founded ATSIMS after leading a field-based coral reef science program in the Torres Strait Islands – where he discovered the local kids were teaching him much more than he could teach them.

“Many of these kids grew up on reefs, and they possess a huge wealth of knowledge acquired over countless generations on the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“This critical knowledge has not yet made its way into western marine science research.”

Orpheus Island Sunset

Orpheus Island Sunset

Sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Orpheus Island field trip is a highlight of the ATSIMS program. The students will not only experience coral reef research out in the field, but also learn about life on a remote research station. In addition, the stay includes sessions with an Elder of the Manburra people, who will share his historical and ecological knowledge of the region with the students.

The ATSIMS program focuses on hands-on learning, including a visit to the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a careers fair at JCU, and interactive lectures from young marine scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, JCU and AIMS.

This unique program aims to both inspire an interest in marine science amongst Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, and to bring about a greater appreciation of their traditional ecological knowledge in the scientific community.

“We hope that providing these engaging, field-based science programs will bolster the interest, experience, and hands-on skills that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders kids will need to initiate, and succeed in, tertiary studies in the field of marine science.”

Natalie Howard, community education counsellor at William Ross High, speaks about the value of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science Program.

(Photos available upon request)

Contacts:

  • Joseph Pollock, ATSIMS, ph: 0466 407 1410466 407 141
  • Professor David Yellowlees, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, ph: (07) 4781 6249(07) 4781 6249 or 0438 164 8240438 164 824
  • Melissa Lyne, media liaison, ph: 0415 514 3280415 514 328, email: Melissa.lyne@gmail.com

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