Rangelands NRM are funding the Yuwuru Rangers to research the ecological and cultural values of Roebuck Plains. Their work will focus on the significant wetland types, and understanding the interface between saltwater and freshwater across the plains.
Residents of Broome, often think of Roebuck Plains and Roebuck Bay as two separate entities. However, if we take a 7000 year perspective, they are one. 7000 years ago, the sea level extended up to the dunes near Lake Eda and Ungani lakes. Across the plains, the story of changing sea levels and climate change can be found in the remnants of Aboriginal waste sites.
This year, before the wet arrived, a team of six Yawuru cultural rangers and elders went out to Roebuck Plains, accompanied by Nyamba Buru Yawuru project officers, and wetland scientists Vic and Chris Semeniuk to progress this work.
“That was the best part. To learn about how the land was before, and how our ancestors were living on the land, back through history as the sea rose and dropped. We found out a lot of things. We learnt about what is underneath – the different soils, and know what it means. Not many people know that. We need to understand how our country works.”
Starting at 5.00 am to avoid the heat of the day, the team went out onto the plains to the wetlands. At each site, they mapped and described the wetlands in terms of their geography, hydrogeology, vegetation, ecology, and cultural significance. ‘Piezometers’, instruments that measure pressure, were inserted across the wetlands as part of an on-going monitoring program.
The emerging Yawuru rangers were trained by the scientists in wetland assessment and management, designing a monitoring program to collect monthly water samples. Water samples will be used as base-line data to indicate seasonal changes in water quality and the height of the water table across Yawuru-identified habitats.
“It is important for us to collect evidence about our water. We are doing it now so that others will know about it in years to come.”
At each site, the team assessed the cultural significance and health of the wetlands. Large areas have been trampled and excavated by cattle, causing damage to surrounding vegetation and the dunes that fringe the plains. Of particular concern, was degradation and compositional changes to the plains and surrounding coastal areas, most likely caused by overstocking of cattle, and nutrient run-off from cattle dung into Roebuck Bay.
“Working with the scientists—they work with us with respect, treat us as equals. And, we get to go out in our country each time we go to work. I grew up in this lifestyle. My fathers and grandfathers were hunters who cared for the land. We need to be out on the country, keeping an eye on things. We have started something here and we should keep it going.”
Given the unique hydro-geological, ecological and cultural values of Roebuck Plains, and the wetlands that are of global significance, the team are now designing on-going research for mapping, monitoring, and further assessment of their values and the impacts from pastoral activity, such as changes to water quality and nutrients in the ecosystems.
The ‘Protecting the ecological and cultural values of Roebuck Plains Project’, funded by a grant from the Rangelands NRM Western Australia, is part of Yawuru’s Indigenous Protected Area Project which is looking at declaring areas outside the Yawuru Conservation Estate for protection.
For more information contact Volker Mischker