We are settling into one of our many nights in the forests of Umling, to the western part of Royal Manas National Park. The night is devoid of any human voices, and all we could hear is the river gushing below, and the wind blowing in the trees. There is only the light of the moon, penetrating through the canopy and we are cautioned not to light fire nor switch on torches. The rangers check their guns, put the safety lock on and put it under their pillow. It is 7 p.m., and we are done with dinner. We are at Kukulung, a place very close to the Indian border and infamous for militant activity and armed poachers. There have been infrequent past encounters between these intruders and the Bhutanese counterparts, and the tales of these encounters sends chill down the spine. There are dangers also from the elephants and gaurs (also known as the Indian Bison), both known to be notorious for attacking people. Here, they can be seen in big herds.
I am in Royal Manas National Park, studying tigers. Royal Manas National Park is the oldest protected area in Bhutan and was established in 1964. The national park is located in the southern foothills of the country and is known worldwide for its incredible biodiversity and scenic landscapes. It has seven species of wildcats in an area of 1054 square kilometers, one of the highest density of cat species in the world and I have always wanted to come here and work. I am currently a wildlife biology student at the University of Montana, and as a part of my thesis research, I am studying the genetic make-up of tigers in the Bhutan Himalaya landscape. I am using non-invasive survey techniques to collect poop samples for obtaining DNA which would provide information on genetic diversity and connectivity in tigers of Bhutan. Insights on ecology and spatial distribution are increasingly becoming available, but information on genetic make-up and diversity is highly lacking and thus, lack explicit consideration in tiger conservation strategies in the country.
I come to Royal Manas National Park because it has tigers, a lot of them compared to the rest of the country and the national park has enjoyed momentous success in tiger monitoring and conservation over the years. The park was applauded recently for an amazing feat: the tiger numbers have doubled over the last three years.
With a team consisting of two research assistants, myself, six armed rangers and three porters, we set off to collect tiger poop. With every poop we found, we celebrated immensely; there was joy on each of our faces. But we were always careful and alert. Few rangers would walk ahead, we would walk in the middle, and few rangers would be at the back. We had to be quiet and maintained a steady pace; some eyes looked up front, some sideways and there were few of us looking at the trails for poop, scrapes, and pugmarks. It was one of the most enriching and adrenaline filled days of my life.
We were always ready by 7 a.m. in the morning, and the day’s journey would take a walking of at least 7 hours. We would cross dense forests, grasslands and rivers, tread river beds and climb ridges. By noon, our porters would cook us delicious food. We would retire by 4 in the evening, cook dinner near a water source, have it there, put out the fire and go somewhere else to sleep. We would choose a vantage point to camp, under a tree canopy and close to a river. The weather seemed erratic and we prayed it never rains for we had no tents with us; it was February and it hardly ever rained in February. The camping sites were always shifted, we never camped at the same place. We would be sleeping scattered across the forest floor and never together. It was the usual drill, and quietly, we would slip into our sleeping bags by dusk. We would watch the moon and the stars and fall asleep. This would be our routine for all the days we were in the forest.
I feel extremely lucky to be getting a sizable number of tiger poop in Umling, and the fieldwork went much smoother than I anticipated. Next, I will be visiting Manas Range on the eastern side of the park. The fieldwork will be equally daunting. I will also be visiting other tiger hotspots across the country to collect more samples. Many of whom I had consulted with had not observed much tiger poop deposits in the forests, and I was very nervous. I visited monasteries and lit butter lamps for blessings, and it is typical of what many Bhutanese like to do when they need something urgent. I was also nervous because of the history of some of these places I was visiting. But I was determined to take it as a challenge, and, I didn’t have a choice.
Fieldwork and patrolling along the borders are always this nerve wrecking. Park rangers are on average 15 days away in a month in the jungles patrolling, camera trapping, and carrying out fieldwork for other research purposes. Many decades have passed this way, and they handle it well; their families have learned not to miss them more. The rangers put their soul into their work and their love for nature is genuine. Their sweat and perseverance are returning results: tigers are doubling in numbers and illegal logging is subsiding. They are very happy about these positive developments, and I could it feel from their smiles as they spoke about it. However, they train every now and then and are always alert and fit; complacency has no room in these jungles.
By: Jacqueline Gerson, Kelsey Lansdale and Melissa Marches
The pitter-patter of rain echoes through our metal boat as we chug down the Madre de Dios River in the Peruvian rainforest.rees line the riverbanks, just visible through the dense fog and heavy rain, while macaws and capuchin monkeys screech in the background; the Amazon is just as we had envisioned.
But we are not your average tourists, birdwatching on an Amazonian tributary — we come equipped with an entire boatload of supplies to conduct research: 55-meter-long PVC pipes, six coolers, two enormous duffel bags, two large boxes and three camping backpacks. We are here to investigate something that is normally hidden from visitors yet is one of the largest environmental and human health disasters to plague the region: mercury contamination from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM).
Gold and other precious metals have been mined and exported from Peru’s resource-rich landscape since Spanish colonization began in the 16th century. In the last twenty years, gold mining specifically has become increasingly popular, offering promises to men from all over the country to “strike it rich” by mining this in-demand and profitable commodity. The mining practice continues to expand despite being completely illegal. The reason behind gold-mining’s success? Mercury. ASGM uses large amounts of this potent and dangerous pollutant to effectively extract gold from sediment. Mercury usage, in turn, spells lifelong health consequences for residents and wildlife, plays a large role in deforestation, has radical social effects and causes detrimental environmental contamination.
During the first few days of our adventure, the impact of ASGM remains invisible to us. Instead, we happily soak in the astounding beauty of the forest and the sincerity of its people. During our first stop along the Madre de Dios River, as we climb the steep mud stairwell from the boat to the small town of Boca Manu, we are greeted by delicious food, kind people and magnificent rainforest.
Yet, even on land, our view of all the activities occurring on the river in front of us serves as a reminder of how interconnected the people are with the water that runs by their town. In an effort to better understand this relationship, we ask a group of children to illustrate what the river means to each of them. Almost all of their drawings show a heavily forested riverside with a winding, clean river; large fish swim in the water, birds flit above it and people paddle across its smooth surface. The river they draw — the one they intimately know — is a river that provides the population with food, transportation and tourism revenue.
Yet, moving downstream on the Madre de Dios River, the landscape suddenly begins to deviate from the picturesque body of water depicted by the children. ASGM’s presence is very clear, ravaging the shores for hundreds of miles. First, dense old-growth forests are replaced with younger stands that struggle to grow after the rampant deforestation associated with ASGM (deforestation stems from mining camps, illegally built roadways and the mining itself). Then we begin to see large pyramidal mounds of rocks hugging the shoreline. Sometimes a pile stands alone, isolated from other pyramids. Other times they are found by the dozens, one beginning at the tail of another. As we stare at these piles of displaced rocks, we notice men poking their faces out of the water as they angle tubes into the sediment, and other men preparing the engines that rest on wooden platforms above some of the piles — these are the active mountains of rocks, formed as miners extract gold from the river in the process of ASGM.
The piles of rocks littering the river are not the only evidence of mining activity in this area. As we pass the Colorado River, home to one of the larger mining towns, a visible mixing of water occurs with the Madre de Dios River. The Colorado River has a drastically different coloration than the blue of the Madre de Dios — it is an opaque chocolate brown. The suspended sediment loosened by the gold extraction process has given the river this color, so its name, “The Colored River,” is fitting. We watch as the Colorado River slowly turns the Madre de Dios River from its deep blue to a caramel brown — spreading the impact of ASGM to the entire ecosystem.
When we finally reach the shore of Boca Colorado, we feel as though we’ve entered the Wild West. All eyes are immediately on us, the obvious foreigners and only females wandering the streets, but we are not the only outsiders in town. Most of the men here have traveled from faraway cities, such as Cusco and Puno, and reside here without their families for several months of the year. In a country where culture is shaped by regional norms that have formed over centuries, this influx of transient migrants disrupts established social patterns. The miners come with a burning desire to become rich overnight, a general disregard for the dominant Amazonian culture, a lack of family to care for and a bachelor style of living. As a result, prostitution, heavy drinking and crime have become commonplace, particularly in the Red District area near the center of town, and a general sense of mistrust pervades what was once a tightknit community. It is not only the people that remind us of the mining activities, but also the infrastructure we observe. Nearly every store either buys the gold produced from ASGM or caters to it in some way: hardware stores specialize in mining equipment (tubing, diesel engines, etc.), general stores are lined with rubber boots for trekking on the mucky shores, and restaurants open early to serve hearty breakfasts to miners. Gold mining in Peru may be illegal and subject to periodic government crackdowns, but the local businesses in this town help perpetuate the practice.
The scale of mining operations ranges from a small group of men equipped with a diesel engine to larger groups with barges and heavy construction equipment, but the processes and results are essentially the same. In ASGM, miners work in a team to pump sediment from the river and then pass these slurries through a gravity filter — rocks and heavy particles are discarded back into the river, forming the mountains of rock we see. The remaining fine particles cascade down a wooden board covered with what looks like a rug. The dense gold particles get stuck in the threads of the fabric, while water and other sediment are washed back into the river. The cloth is then removed and dunked in an oil drum to begin the process of isolating the gold particles. At this point, mercury is added to bind selectively to the gold, separating it from other sediment particles. This mercury-gold amalgam is then retrieved and the mercury burned off, leaving behind gold that can be sold in town. Any mercury-rich tailings that remain in the oil drum are dumped directly into the river.
While groups of miners can produce up to 30 grams of gold per day using this process (worth an astounding US$600), their actions are altering the river’s flow, disturbing local cultural norms and introducing large amounts of toxic mercury into the environment. In fact, the Madre de Dios region of Peru is estimated to produce 16 tons of gold per year, using over 32 tons of poisonous mercury in the process. Once in the air and water, mercury is a potent toxin that can impact the neurological functions of people and animals, particularly carnivorous species that feed high in the food web. It is these environmental and health impacts of mercury that brought us on this journey.
The effects of ASGM on forests and wildlife are not isolated to the area around Boca Colorado. As we continue downstream to the regional capital of Puerto Maldonado, the river is lined with eroded streambanks, gaps in the forest canopy and endless mountains of rocks. In Laberinto, a day’s trip downstream from Boca Colorado, we dock our boat on a deteriorating shoreline that is slowly dumping abandoned edifices into the river as the sediment banks crumble. We are greeted by a towering sign proudly advertising “Amazon gold” (a gold-buying shop) and other stores selling the standard rubber boots, pumps, tubing and cloth needed for the mining process. The entire region has been transformed by ASGM.
Only after witnessing the harsh realities of SGM from the river and in mining towns such as Boca Colorado do we fully realize the effects mining has on the communities upstream. When we first arrived in Peru, we were mesmerized by the beauty and serenity of the Amazon — the trees, birds, animals and people. During the first few days of our trip as we journeyed to Boca Manu, the forest seemed untouched by ASGM, but the impacts of mining do reach even these upstream communities and wilderness areas. Mercury released through burning the mercury-gold amalgam travels through the atmosphere to be deposited in areas far from its source, fish that migrate through the river are now scarce due to the high sediment loads associated with mining, and gold-rush newcomers from other areas of Peru bring alcoholism and crime to remote areas, disrupting the established social norms of indigenous Amazonians. The scene we witnessed near Boca Colorado is becoming the standard as mining activities continue to increase. Everyone must try to adapt to this new Peruvian Amazon.
Even though we are studying the impact of mercury on the environment, we also witnessed how the tradition of ASGM and the toxin itself are leading to neurological impacts on the people and changing the interactions of people as a whole. At moments in our journey, it seemed that only by developing superpowers (as suggested by our boat guide Ramiro) could we stop the illegal and omnipresent practice of gold mining. While we obviously wish for superpowers, we choose a more realistic pathway for change. We strive to use scientific research to promote an improved understanding of the environmental, health and social impacts of mercury used in ASGM and to induce policy reforms that benefit this unique environment and its people.
Shortly after sunrise on April 2nd we successfully navigated Mir back to her mooring in Banyuwedang Bay in northwestern Bali after over three months at sea— a three months that brought us clear across the Indonesian archipelago and back, covering over 2,500 nautical miles along the way, all in the name of adventure and conservation.
Calm day on the Banda Sea. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation
Did That Really Happen?
The crew aboard Mir made it safely back to Bali, and our long-anticipated voyage to Raja Ampat has sadly come to an end. As can happen with any slice of time, this adventure is already beginning to take on a dreamlike quality in my mind — did that really happen? Was I truly just traveling through the most biologically-diverse marine ecosystem on the planet on a 108-year-old ship? The surest way for me to verify that it wasn’t all just a dream is by closing my eyes and reliving some of the moments from these past three months, knowing full well that my imagination could never have conjured these otherworldly visions on its own — visions of looking up from eighty feet below the water at thousands upon thousands of fish circling above me in such perfect unison they appeared to be one single, gargantuan, cyclone-shaped, super-organism. Visions of standing on the bow as we slowly approached a remote island at sunrise and expecting to see pterodactyls swooping off the turrets of stone as the land came into focus to reveal steep, jagged cliff faces speckled with broad-leafed plants overflowing out of any little spot that could hold a cup of soil. Visions of being on watch late at night and looking over the side of the ship at long ribbons of bioluminescence streaming and twisting away from Mir’s hull as she cut through the otherwise pitch-black waters. And one especially wild vision of diving in a tidal “river” between two islands where the current was so strong that when everyone else grabbed ahold of a boulder to stop themselves, and I missed it, I had to dig my hands into the sandy bottom where I was dragged away from the rest of the team while “gusts” of water threatened to tear my mask from my face and it felt like I was on a gravity-free planet about to get blown into outer space, never to be heard from again. But of all the things we saw in Raja Ampat, the most spectacular was what we went there to see in the first place: the vast trove of healthy coral reefs, all of which hosted a chaotic profusion of sea life on and around them.
Fish tornado. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation
Voyage Back to Bali
We left our final anchorage in Raja Ampat on March 10th to begin our long voyage back across those big blue spots you may have seen on maps of Indonesia. Although we were sad to leave a place we had come to love so much, our adventure in no way diminished once we did; on one of our first nights underway between Raja Ampat and Sulawesi, an electrical storm came so close to the ship that the thunder was already clapping while the lightning was still spiderwebbing pink and welding torch-white across the skies beside us, causing us to throw our hands up to our ears. The four of us who were up at the time all thought the power had gone out on the ship before realizing we had each been momentarily blinded by the flash.
We saw many of these eerie, floating fish attractors in the seas around Sulawesi. Our presumption is that these scarecrow-like paddle people have a double purpose: 1) to keep birds from landing on them so fish aren’t dissuaded from gathering below, and 2) to make them easier for the fisherman to relocate. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation
After spending a few days diving in Wakatobi National Park off the southeastern coast of Sulawesi, we continued on to the small island of Moyo, where the Biosphere Foundation has an ongoing “Friends of Moyo” project. There, we were reunited with our hero, Sutama, and his wonderful and hilarious wife, Wayan, who flew in to meet us from Bali. We spent a week in Moyo transplanting broken corals, and adding many small moorings to the beautiful reefs off the coast of the island. Sutama led us in these efforts, while also training the local dive leaders of Moyo who are eager to carry on the critical work of protecting their reefs from anchor damage, destructive fishing practices, and pollution.
From left to right: Sutama, Dolphin, Wayan, and Nadia. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere FoundationSutama and Wayan Chandra transplanting corals near Moyo Island. Photo by Kitty Currier, Biosphere FoundationLaser and Sutama tying a mooring buoy line to the rocky substrate. Photo by Nadia Low, Biosphere FoundationSutama certifying local Moyo divers: Chandra, Herwin, and Arif as Biosphere Foundation Coral Reef Stewards. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere Foundation.Gorgeous waterfall on Moyo Island — it felt incredible to swim in fresh water after months of salt. Photo by Sam Keck Scott, Biosphere Foundation
While in Moyo, we also visited a local school where we met with nearly 150 students, teaching them about the detriments of plastic pollution and the importance of healthy coral reefs. We sang and danced with them, and performed the same skit that we put on in Mansuar, where once again I played a sea turtle who nearly chokes to death on a plastic bag that I mistake for a jellyfish. In Bahasa Indonesia, jellyfish is “ubur ubur,” and apparently my pronunciation of the word is so hilarious that now every time I see one of my Indonesian friends, they yell: “ubur ubur!” in a drawn-out and exaggerated accent and then burst into laughter. Just now a boat filled with Balinese dive leaders spotted me where I’m typing this and all shouted “ubur ubur!” in unison and then nearly fell overboard with delight.
Schoolchildren of Labuhan Aji village on Moyo Island, Indonesia. Photo by Gaie Alling, Biosphere Foundation
On the Horizon
We’re living at a critical moment not only for humanity, but for all life on Planet Earth — a moment when many say it’s already too late to steer us off our current crash course with environmental destruction. Coral reefs are a strong indicator of overall ocean health, and alarmingly, they are projected to be nearly gone in the next thirty years if ocean temperatures continue to rise at current trends. After seeing the spectacular underwater ecosystems of Raja Ampat, those of us aboard Mir are more motivated than ever to not sit idly by as our elegant biosphere slowly fades out, and whether it’s too late to change our species’ destructive course or not, the truth of the matter is that these reefs still exist today, and that means there’s still hope. If we lose our reefs for good, there’s no getting them back, so now is the time to act; our grandchildren won’t be given the same opportunity if we do nothing.
Mir crew, 2018. Photo by Woody Heffern, Biosphere Foundation
Though our expedition to Raja Ampat is now behind us, the work of the Biosphere Foundation is only gaining momentum; as of this week, Sutama officially became the head of our NW Bali Marine Stewardship Program where he will continue to develop programs to educate local people — including officials from the local Nature Parks, and Indonesia’s National Parks — in simple, yet effective, methods to protect their oceans. Also on the horizon is the Biosphere Foundation’s new educational center that will soon be built in northwest Bali where both local and international students can participate in our land and sea environmental stewardship programs. We hope you’ll join us.
part of the massive intact north american Boreal Forest: the Sahtu region of the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada (Photo J. Wells)
Due to the course of human history, there are now only a handful of places on Earth that are not severely altered by the footprint of large-scale industrial activities. Those within parts of the Earth where trees are dominant are termed “intact” or “primary” forests. A few weeks ago I joined more than a hundred other scientists and conservationists for a three-day conference at Oxford University in England to discuss the issues, needs, similarities, and differences related to the science and conservation of the world’s forest landscapes that are considered intact.
The conference, Intact Forests in the 21st Century, included presentations on the issues of how best to map and identify intact forest landscapes, methods for inventory and identification of conservation values of intact forests, ways of communicating about the importance of intact forests to the public and policy makers, elucidation of the major threats and stressors that are eliminating or degrading intact forests, and strategies for achieving conservation of these forest landscapes.
Five regions of the globe have very large forested landscapes that contain large tracts of intact or primary forest: the Boreal Forest of Canada and Alaska, the Boreal Forest of Russia and Scandinavia, the Amazon Forest of South America, the Congo Basin of Africa, and the forests of Papua New Guinea and Malayasia. While this “Family of Five” forest areas are called by some the “Last Five,” it is important to point out that there are other areas of forest around the globe, some of which, while perhaps smaller at the global scale, are intact and others which are recovering from past human impacts and that need conservation attention as well.
But certainly the “Family of Five” was a major focus of presentations at the conference and the range of research and conservation initiatives that are underway in these regions is impressive. At the same time, it was clear from all presentations that there continues to be rapid loss of these last intact forest landscapes on the planet, with consequent loss of animal and plant species as well as degradation of the ability of forests to provide clean air and water, and to store away carbon pollution.
The Boreal Forest region of Canada and Alaska was highlighted for its global significance containing as it does, at least a quarter of the world’s last large intact forest landscapes that have in storage over 200 billion tons of carbon and that support billions of migratory birds and a host of mammals, fish, insects, and plants. Also highlighted was the fact that the Boreal Forest of Canada and Alaska is the ancestral homeland of hundreds of Indigenous communities whose governments are increasingly taking the lead in achieving balanced protection and stewardship of their lands and waters, and the animals and plants found there. Some of the major problems in the region were also given attention including the plight of rapidly declining Boreal Woodland Caribou populations in Canada and the opportunity for increasing protections as governments strive to achieve conservation commitments embodied in the Aichi Biodiversity Treaty by 2020. The long-term impacts to the Boreal Forest of the very large footprint of industrial forestry as well as from mining, oil, and gas; large-scale hydro, and other global industries was demonstrated as well.
As the conference reached its conclusion, delegates came together to show a global voice and vision for the world’s remaining intact forests and their conservation through an Intact Forest Declaration that attendees and others will be signing and spotlighting in coming months. By sharing our knowledge, ideas and understanding among those working for conservation across all the world’s Intact Forest landscapes, we hope we can increase the collective conservation gains for all of the Family of the Five and beyond.
Me with Tom Evans (right) of the Wildlife Conservation Society who was one of the key organizers of the Intact Forests in the 21st Century Conference. Behind us is an amazing graphic put together by two artists to encapsulate the range of presentations and messages of the conference.
Fires are burning across the savanna landscape of Nyikina Mangala country. The fires are lit and managed by the Nyikina Mangala rangers together with cultural adviser and senior elder Mr. John Darraga Watson. Watson prefers to use matches while his younger crew dons drip torches. Soon, the grass is engulfed in flames. Just as quickly, it smolders out.
When it comes to managing these landscapes, “the most important thing is to listen to elders, I reckon, and the traditions and laws,” explains Ashton Howard at another burn site. Howard is a member of the Bardi Jawi ranger group based in Ardyaloon (One Arm Point) on the Kimberley’s Dampier Peninsula. “They know what’s best for the country because they live there and have been monitoring for years.”
Monitoring the glowing embers, he points out, “This is a cool burn because the flames are real low. It’s early in the year when it’s still green. We burn to reduce the fuel load and stop the late season wildfires that burn much hotter.”
In 2016, staff from The Nature Conservancy visited these areas in northern Australia to film virtual reality (VR) videos with our Indigenous partners, documenting their work in this vast landscape where their ancestors lived and worked for tens of thousands of years.
Transport yourself to Australia where Indigenous leaders and scientists will take you on a journey through the bush.
Editor’s Note: For the best experience, use your mobile device or a virtual reality headset to view these videos.
For more than 50,000 years, Indigenous Australians practiced careful management of the land that provided their food, shelter and livelihoods. Traditional fire practices centered on clearing bush to hunt for food, as well as regenerating the bush through new growth—and as a result, Australian landscapes evolved in the presence of fire for tens of thousands of years and have come to depend on it to regrow and flourish. But prescribed burning and the traditional way of life were interrupted due to European settlement.
As a result of European settlement, Indigenous groups suffered cultural and social dislocation from the land and waters that served as their source of life. Dry grasses built up and much larger wildfires sparked from natural causes like lightning. These larger and hotter fires devastate vegetation and animal habitat—and release a greater volume of greenhouse gases.
Aboriginal people have a deep connection to country—the surrounding natural territory—a major part of their identity. Having managed the land for tens of thousands of years, country is ingrained within their culture and that sense is passed down through generations. Hear from members of the Jarlmadangah Burru community about the role country plays in their lives.
The Bardi Jawi community, at the tip of the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley, is helping native plant species to recover in this landscape. Watch to learn more about why managing these lands is so important to the Bardi Jawi culture.
What’s the economic significance of commercializing traditional land management activities for Aboriginal peoples in the Kimberley? Learn more about how the Kimberley Land Council is helping to better livelihoods from Acting CEO Tyronne Garstone.
Preserving biodiversity, connecting to country and earning a sustainable livelihood are possible all at once through the Indigenous Ranger Program. It also saves lives.
Uncontrollable fire is the prime example of the environmental damage resulting from disruption to these traditional ways of landscape management. But a quiet revolution is taking place across the Australian Outback as Indigenous Australians are beginning to return to their ancestral lands to both manage them for conservation and provide a livelihood for their families as they did for thousands of years. The Indigenous Ranger Program, begun in 2007, is supported by a variety of organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) and the Australian Government. This program allows Indigenous people to maintain their relationship with the land, ensuring both the land and their culture continue to thrive.
“I think the ranger program has probably saved a lot of young people on country… You can see their self-confidence … has grown dramatically…They’ve become a good role model for kids.” – Bibido, Bardi Jawi Ranger Coordinator
In addition to fire management, the rangers also work on weed and feral animal control, take care of cultural heritage sites, and protect endangered species across the landscape.
“Being a ranger…You’re using traditional knowledge and western science to look after country…It makes me feel proud of who I am and my identity as an Aboriginal person. I’m glad to be out on my ancestors’ country burning.” – Robin Dann, Head Ranger, Wungurr Rangers
Indigenous knowledge and stewardship has been critical to protecting landscapes across the globe for millennia. The fire management work conducted by Australian Indigenous groups demonstrates the importance of retaining this body of cultural practice and knowledge and its potential to provide livelihoods for Indigenous peoples living in remote communities. Furthermore, this work with fire has prevented the emission of hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere across millions of hectares – the equivalent of taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road – while also generating millions in revenue for conservation work.
To date, Indigenous fire managers have secured contracts for 9.1 million tons of avoided CO2 emissions, generating at least US$81 million in funding for indigenous-led conservation and employing 250 people. By 2025, a robust carbon economy could create 500 full-time equivalent jobs for 1,000 Aboriginal people, lead to 28.2 million tons of emissions reductions and bring $339 million in income for Aboriginal land managers.
“Our People … have … a long history that goes back forty, fifty thousand years. This knowledge has been passed on from generation to generation, from the old people to the young people. We say that Aboriginal people are the first conservationists, and it’s because of those values, because of that cultural relationship that Aboriginal people have with land.” – Nolan Hunter, CEO, Kimberley Land Council
Picking through the vegetation looking for bushfood, Linda Nardea paused to take in the view. The low sun made the cliffs particularly red and the spring resulted in a striking green burst of trees and shrubs. It was rough country, but breathtakingly beautiful. She pointed to the boots of the people around her. “Look at your shoes – I don’t need no shoes. The land knows me. She protects my feet. We belong here and we take care of each other. There’s no other way.”