Standard Presentation (15 mins) Australian Marine Sciences Association 2022

Coral Health and History: Traditional Owners, Scientists and Management in the Torres Strait in a changing bio-social and political climate. (#33)

Libby Evans-Illidge 1 , Scott Bainbridge 1 , Madeina David 2 , Moni Carlisle 2 , Stan Lui 2 , Tom Bridge 3 , Falen Passi 4
  1. Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, AIMS, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  2. Torres Strait Regional Authority , TSRA, Thursday Island, QLD, Australia
  3. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University , JCU, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  4. Traditional Owners from Mer , Mer Gedkem Le chairperson, Mer Island , Qld, Australia

Torres Strait represents the northernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef, the southern point of the coral triangle and potentially a biogeographic transition zone from Pacific to Indian Ocean coral faunas. Consequently, it is likely to support both high biodiversity and a unique assemblage of species. However, the coral fauna of the Torres Strait is largely unstudied; with only a few quantitative coral surveys having been conducted, with these largely unrecognized for their importance.

Torres Strait has played a significant historical role in coral biodiversity research as the type locality for many coral species. While numerous coral species were described from specimens collected from Torres Strait in the late 19th century, the first recorded ‘research’ papers published on corals were based on specimens from Mer Island in the Torres Strait and sent to an American researcher, Alfred Goldsborough Mayer, then Director of Marine Biology at the Carnegie Institute in Washington D.C.

The data we have indicates that the reefs of the eastern Torres Strait are protected by natural cooling processes and so may represent one of the few natural havens for corals world-wide. Understanding these reefs and the role they will play in a changing world is critical to understanding how reefs world-wide will sustain themselves. The unique combination of extant Traditional Ecological Knowledge and western science opens the possibility of gaining unique insights into the history and future of these reefs.

As Traditional Owner collaborations between scientists and management agencies strengthens in a spirit of reconciliation across Australia, it is imperative to recognise our nation’s First Scientists and role of colonization in denying Indigenous Land and Sea Country from being recognized for its contribution to science, particularly in the coral research field. Our talk will introduce the island of Mer and Meriam Nation and its vital contribution to coral research science and how Traditional Knowledge and western science can work together to understand coral resilience in a changing climate.