Joint media release: $4.9 million to back Traditional Owners on reef protection

30 March 2021

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment
The Hon Warren Entsch MP, Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef


The Australian Government is placing Indigenous knowledge at the centre of efforts to boost water quality, tackle crown-of-thorns starfish and care for wetland habitats.

Twenty-five new projects totalling $4.9 million support management of Country and protect culturally significant areas across the Great Barrier Reef and provide employment and training for Traditional Owners.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said combining traditional knowledge with world-leading science ensures the very best protection for the reef, now and into the future.

“Grants are being provided across two programs co-designed with Traditional Owners – one to address water priorities, and another focussed on crown-of-thorns starfish control, monitoring and reporting, and reef restoration,” Minister Ley said.

“This is about empowering the Traditional Owner groups who manage Land and Sea Country, preserving ancient knowledge and supporting targeted on-country activities to protect the reef.”

New projects include:

  • The development of a Healthy Country Water plan in the Cairns region, embedding the culture and knowledge of the Yirrganydji people in community efforts to protect wetland health.
  • On-country and Traditional Owner-led activities to protect tea tree swamps, wetlands and rivers and maintain water quality on traditional lands in Cape York.
  • The recruitment of 4 Darumbal Traditional Owners to undertake SCUBA and crown-of-thorns starfish training, supporting management of their Sea Country in the Rockhampton region.
  • Traditional Owners and Elders working with a film consultant to record and protect Yalanji knowledge of healthy water management to the north of Port Douglas.
  • Work to build the resilience of coral reefs in Port Curtis Coral Coast Sea Country in the Bundaberg area, including scoping for a coral gardening project.

Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, Warren Entsch, said a huge range of work will be funded across many other areas including Palm Island, Innisfail, Tully, Ingham, Lakefield and Cooktown.

“These projects recognise the depth of First Nations peoples' spiritual and cultural knowledge and connection to Country, which is highly valuable,” Mr Entsch said.

“The new grants build on other Reef Trust Partnership projects that have provided support for junior ranger programs, the development of Sea Country plans, and the implementation of existing land and Sea Country plans.”

The $4.9 million forms part of the $51.8 million commitment to Indigenous reef protection as part of the Australian Government’s $443.3 million Reef Trust Partnership with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Anna Marsden, said the Traditional Owners of our reef have rich ongoing connections, rights, interests and aspirations in Land and Sea Country along the length of the Great Barrier Reef and have been caring for it for thousands of years.

“Through the Reef Trust Partnership we have co-designed Australia’s largest Traditional Owner-led reef protection program and we’re proud to be delivering the first major opportunity for Traditional Owner-led projects to improve the quality of water flowing to our reef, and on-ground activities to control crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, monitor reef health and restore reefs recently damaged.”

“These Traditional Owner-led projects are just some of the more than 100 reef-saving projects the Foundation and its partners are delivering right now.”

A full list of grant recipients and a description of funded projects is available here: https://www.barrierreef.org/what-we-do/reef-trust-partnership/traditional-owner-reef-protection