Standard Presentation (15 mins) Australian Marine Sciences Association 2022

Cultural revival and reconnection through a marine science partnership - the story of a People expressed in the life history and adaptation of coral (#34)

Mhaegan Cummins 1 2 , Bob Muir 1 3 , Libby Evans-Illidge 3
  1. Woppaburra Traditional Owner, Keppel islands, Australia
  2. Woppaburra TUMRA Steering Committee, Keppel Islands, Australia
  3. AIMS, Townsville MC, QLD, Australia

An extraordinary example of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives blending with western marine science has emerged within a growing partnership between the Woppaburra people, Traditional Owners of the Keppel Islands and surrounding sea Country in the southern Great Barrier Reef, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).   In December 2019, AIMS supported an on-Country workshop at Konomie (North Keppel Island) with 46 Woppaburra people representing multi-generations, gender diversity and all six ancestral familial lineages.

From AIMS’ perspective, the workshop was an important and genuine opportunity to consult with Woppaburra people about past AIMS research in their sea Country and co-design elements of a proposed future project. From Woppaburra’s perspective, the workshop had profound significance as rare opportunity to come together and reconnect to Country after forced removal 120 years ago.  While they also appreciated hearing about AIMS research interests, they were alarmed on learning of  past projects that undertook culturally dangerous activities, specifically the translocation of corals without cultural consent. 

From several days of 2-way knowledge sharing and reflection emerged deepening relationships between people and several examples of shared learnings and understandings.  One major outcome was the Woppaburra Coral Dance.  It compares the original non-consensual or forced removal of coral and subsequent demonstration of life histories, adaptation and resilience in new locations – to that of the Woppaburra people themselves. With full permissions from elders present, the dance was premiered at the workshop closure.