Environmental Management

News & Resources

In October 2013, the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) won two of Australia's most prestigious environmental awards, including an award for an outstanding contribution to national sustainability.

The TSRA Environment Portfolio Member, Mr Willie Lui, was presented with the 26th Banksia Indigenous Award and a Gold Banksia Award at the ceremony in Melbourne. The gold award recognised the TSRA as the best entrant in 11 major categories of the annual awards.

The TSRA Chairperson, Mr Joseph Elu, said the awards were fitting recognition for the Land and Sea Management Unit (LSMU) of the TSRA, based on the scale, breadth of vision, and holistic approach to land and sea management of the Environmental Management Programme. The Programme has demonstrated the positive way in which traditional cultural practices of caring for the land and sea, combined with contemporary management approaches, can lead to better environmental outcomes.

The TSRA established the LSMU in 2006 to coordinate the delivery of natural resource management programmes in the Torres Strait region. The Unit facilitates improved coordination, communication and collaboration between communities, all levels of government, research organisations and other stakeholders to achieve improved environmental conservation outcomes. Communities are assisted to access financial and technical information about the sustainable management of their environments.

a photograph of Banksia sustainability awards 2013 logo

The LSMU strives to ensure that Indigenous customary knowledge and management techniques are appropriately recognised and incorporated in contemporary management regimes, especially for culturally iconic species such as dugongs and marine turtles, and areas of high cultural and biodiversity significance. It does so by supporting community-based planning and management approaches, acknowledging the critical role of communities in acting as local custodians of their environmental assets, integrating western and customary knowledge in management arrangements, as well as empowering communities in decision-making and priority setting.

a photograph of Miya Isherwood, TSRA Land and Sea Management Unit Programmes and Partnerships Officer; Willie Lui, TSRA Environment Portfolio Member and Member for Warraber; and Jenni Pilot, TSRA Land and Sea Management Unit Project Support Officer (Ranger Team) receiving the Banksia Gold Award at the 2013 Banksia Sustainability Awards, Melbourne, October 2013

Miya Isherwood, TSRA Land and Sea Management Unit Programmes and Partnerships Officer; Willie Lui, TSRA Environment Portfolio Member and Member for Warraber; and Jenni Pilot, TSRA Land and Sea Management Unit Project Support Officer (Ranger Team) receiving the Banksia Gold Award at the 2013 Banksia Sustainability Awards, Melbourne, October 2013.

Regional Goal

Our natural and cultural environment is an asset that is protected, preserved and enjoyed through sustainable management.

Programme Goal

The programme goal is identical to the regional goal.

Programme Objectives

This programme component will contribute to sustainable environmental management by:

  • promoting the sustainable management of natural resources
  • managing the effects of climate change, tidal inundation and erosion
  • increasing the utilisation of renewable energies
  • reducing the environmental impacts of waste management
  • improving land management for future generations.

Programme Deliverables

The Environmental Management Programme is delivered by the TSRA's Land and Sea Management Unit.

The programme deliverables are to achieve the outcomes from the:

  • Fisheries project
  • Land project
  • Garden and horticulture project
  • Biodiversity project
  • Invasive species project
  • Seagrass and other research activities project
  • Land and sea rangers project
  • Climate change and coastal erosion project
  • Research initiatives.

Programme Expenditure 2013 - 2014

Table 2-5 Environmental Management Programme Expenditure 2013 - 2014 (unaudited)


Torres Strait Development Plan Outcomes

  • Improved animal management and pest control for the protection of the natural environment.
  • Reduced waste management issues and environmental impact.
  • Increased utilisation of renewable energies.
  • Managed effects of climate change, tidal inundation and erosion.
  • Sustainable management of natural resources.
  • Improved land management for future generations.

Figure 2-4 Environmental Management Programme Map

a chart showing Environmental Management Programme Map

Environmental Management Programme projects and achievements
Project Name: Terrestrial biodiversity conservation

Project purpose

To develop a baseline for terrestrial biodiversity inventories, assessments of ecological condition, identification of threatening processes and the development and implementation of key management actions.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

Terrestrial biodiversity assessments for the Moa community and 12 uninhabited islands were completed.

Ecological fire management was undertaken on Badu and Moa and formal fire training (ground burning and incendiary burning from helicopters) was completed for seven ranger groups from Badu, Moa, Saibai, Mabuiag, Erub, Boigu and Dauan.

Under the National Environmental Research Programme, collaborative research is underway to:

  • determine disease dynamics across the Torres Strait and improve approaches for disease detection and management
  • determine the status and condition of regional mangrove and freshwater ecosystems.

The MangroveWatch Programme continued in the Torres Strait, with rangers trained and equipped for field monitoring.

Project Name: Invasive species management

Project purpose

To support monitoring and management of invasive species in the Torres Strait.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

The TSRA secured Queensland Government funding for an integrated pest management project to manage three invasive species found in Torres Strait; namely, pest fish, cane toads and wild dogs.

Invasive fish surveys were conducted on Boigu, Saibai, Badu and Mabuiag Islands in collaboration with researchers from James Cook University.

Cane toad surveys were conducted on Thursday and Horn Islands, and containment measures were subsequently implemented in early 2014. Consultations are underway with freight companies to identify strategies to reduce the risks of accidental transportation of cane toads (and other invasive species) on ships bound for the Torres Strait.

Rangers are monitoring pest animal impacts, and have supported relevant government agencies in conducting island plant and animal health surveys.

Weed management activities have been included in ranger work plans, in line with targeted control programmes across 15 islands.

The TSRA is coordinating the development of a regional invasive species management strategy.


Environmental Management Programme projects and achievements
Project Name: Sustainable horticulture

Project purpose

To provide Torres Strait communities with access to a wider range of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs at affordable prices.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

Funding was secured under the sustainable agriculture stream of the Caring for our Country programme for the TSRA to continue employing a Regional Landcare Facilitator to promote and support Landcare and food gardening activities. This is complemented by TSRA funding to support project delivery.

Under the sustainable horticulture project, four continuing community garden pilot projects (at St Pauls, Hammond, Horn and Masig ) have been supported to increase garden productivity and the uptake of sustainable practices.

The sustainable horticulture project has expanded to include nine additional communities, including trials to re-establish garden or nursery sites and traditional garden beds and to provide horticultural supplies, technical advice and on-ground support.

The Horticulture in Schools Programme was delivered in collaboration with Tagai State College. This project has supported the employment of an environmental education coordinator based at Tagai College, the inclusion of horticulture and an environmental programme in the school curriculum, and extensive garden projects on 14 campuses across the region. Two campuses received awards from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their level of community engagement and produce from the gardens. The environmental programme within Tagai also received a high commendation and the Premier's award for sustainability (sustainable schools category).

a photograph of Rangers clearing Manilla rope, Dauan

Rangers clearing Manilla rope, Dauan.

Environmental Management Programme projects and achievements
Project Name: Dugong and turtle management

Project purpose

To implement community-based management plans for the sustainable management of dugong and turtle in the Torres Strait.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

The TSRA is supporting 14 Torres Strait communities in implementing their community-based management plans to sustainably manage dugong and turtle populations. The TSRA was successful in obtaining funding from the Australian Government's Caring for our Country programme to deliver aspects of the dugong and turtle project, which is complemented by additional funding from the TSRA.

The TSRA is also working with the Kaurareg Traditional Owners and communities of the Kaiwalagal region (inner islands) to establish a management framework for dugong and turtle.

An independent review of the effectiveness of the community-based management approach is underway. The review will measure progress in implementing the plans and provide feedback and recommendations for improvement.

Dugong and turtle management signs have been erected in each of the 14 Torres Strait communities to reinforce community and visitor awareness of the management plans.

A prototype device is under development for use by traditional hunters to humanely euthanase green turtles. An animal ethics committee assesses and approves each stage of the project to ensure the device meets animal cruelty standards and is suitable for its purpose and a steering committee, chaired by TSRA, oversees the project.

A review of the voluntary community dugong and turtle catch monitoring programme was completed. The report recommended a pilot of customised data collection models for each community. Further work is progressing on these models.

James Cook University, in collaboration with the TSRA's staff and Traditional Owners, will complete the marine turtles and dugongs of the Torres Strait research project in 2014. Preliminary results indicate that green turtle nesting effort and success was higher this year at both Dauar Island and Maizab Kaur (Bramble Cay), and that hatchling success was also healthy at Maizab Kaur.

Flatback turtle nesting surveys, satellite tagging and genetic sampling of nesting turtles at Warul Kawa (Deliverance Island) was also undertaken. A foraging survey for flatback, green and hawksbill turtles was conducted.

Annual large-scale aerial surveys were completed to identify the distribution and abundance of dugongs throughout the Torres Strait using spatial models developed for the project. The report is being finalised.

The TSRA is facilitating community consultations on a proposed expansion of the existing boundaries of the dugong sanctuary and the inclusion of turtles as protected species in the sanctuary area.

The TSRA is working with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection on the Raine Island green turtle conservation project.

The TSRA is liaising with Papua New Guinea (PNG) Traditional Inhabitants and the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation in planning and managing shared arrangements for dugongs and turtles.


Environmental Management Programme projects and achievements
Project Name: Seagrass monitoring and other related research activities

Project purpose

To support community-based seagrass monitoring activities to assess the health, condition and extent of seagrass beds throughout the Torres Strait.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

TSRA staff successfully coordinated seagrass monitoring at 11 sites across five islands (Moa, Mabuiag, Iama, Mer and Badu) to monitor the health of seagrass beds. A seagrass monitoring refresher workshop was organised by James Cook University (JCU), in order to improve the accuracy of monitoring outcomes. The sea team and ranger groups are now responsible for coordinating the surveys and data quality control before forwarding data to JCU for analysis.

The JCU is assessing seagrass productivity, resilience to sea temperature change and capacity for recovery in the Torres Strait in order to model stronger predictive relationships between climate and seagrass health.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), in collaboration with the TSRA, undertook a National Environment Research Programme (NERP) project to assess the health of coral reefs in Torres Strait this year. Thirteen TSRA staff members were trained in coral reef monitoring methods during a broader biodiversity survey in January 2014. The interim report updates the baseline information, which will be critical for future change reference points, identifies new coral and fish species, and provides an assessment of coral bleaching locations.

As part of the project, the TSRA and AIMS staff installed a second real-time weather station at Masig (Yorke Island) and assisted in maintaining the existing stations at Madge Reef and Poruma Island. These stations provide the TSRA and communities with regular real-time weather, coral bleaching and environmental conditions reports for vulnerable areas in the Torres Strait.

TSRA staff are also responsible for the retrieval and replacement of in-water temperature data loggers across Torres Strait. The data collected from the loggers will enable scientists to predict fluctuations in water temperature which may lead to coral bleaching.

Project Name: Indigenous Protected Areas

Project purpose

To deliver the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) programme in the Torres Strait.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

Funding was secured from the Department of the Environment (now from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) for the continuation of the IPA project for a further five years.

Draft management plans for the proposed Warraberalgahl and Porumalgal IPA and Warul Kawa IPA have been developed. A dedication for the proposed Warraberalgahl and Porumalgal IPA is currently being negotiated.

The TSRA assisted Traditional Owners to manage the existing IPAs at Warul Kawa and Pulu Islet.

Environmental baseline studies have been completed on all the uninhabited islands of the proposed Warraberalgahl and Porumalgal IPA, providing important ecological data.


Environmental Management Programme projects and achievements
Project Name: Seagrass monitoring and other related research activities

Project purpose

To establish a Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) recording system for the Torres Strait, to enable land and sea planning and management activities to be informed by Ailan Kastom using appropriate intellectual property and communication protocols.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

Funding has been secured for the continuation of the TEK project until 2018 under the Australian Government's Caring for our Country programme.

The TSRA supported the community-owned TEK database system on Boigu Island.

The TEK project has been expanded to the near western cluster (Badu, Moa and Mabuiag Islands). TSRA staff and community members in these additional communities have been trained and are now actively recording information for uploading into the TEK database.

TSRA staff and consultants provided technical support for rangers using the TEK system.

Project Name: Climate change and coastal management

Project purpose

To manage coastal impacts and climate change issues in the Torres Strait.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

A marine water quality monitoring programme has been established across the Torres Strait to assess the changes to the local marine environment.

Four tide gauges were installed (at Boigu, Iama, Kubin and Ugar) to monitor tidal dynamics across the region and improve the accuracy of mean sea level datum values.

Four community workshops were delivered for the NERP funded building resilient futures for Torres Strait communities project, in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

A coral reef response plan was developed to address sea level and water temperature change, disease and crown-of-thorns starfish threats to Torres Strait reef systems.

The TSRA partnered with AIMS in the development of a web-based information visualisation platform (E-Atlas) for the Torres Strait.

Numerous mapping and spatial information products have been developed to support internal and external projects, including maps of electoral boundaries, natural resource management maps, development of emergency evacuation maps, coastal hazard maps, maps of sea wall projects and infrastructure maps.

Project Name: Fisheries

Project purpose

To increase employment in the fishing industry and create sustainable businesses whilst ensuring ecologically sustainable management.

Achievements for 2013 - 2014

Through the Protected Zone Joint Authority (PZJA) consultative structure, the TSRA helped community representatives to contribute Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal fisher and community perspectives at PZJA related meetings. Also through the PZJA, the TSRA secured support from other PZJA members for the aspiration of 100 per cent ownership of Torres Strait Fisheries by Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait.

Delivery of Benefits: Torres Strait Development Plan

Community skills and capacity

The TSRA's LSMU administers the TSRA's Environmental Management Programme. This Programme provides information, technical support and access to resources and equipment to enable all Torres Strait outer island communities to carry out cultural and natural resource management activities that achieve outcomes under the Environmental Management Programme. Ranger groups on the islands play an integral part in facilitating and delivering these activities at the local level. Communities and Traditional Owners continue to be engaged in all stages of project design and delivery to ensure local and cultural priorities are adequately addressed.

Short-term benefit description
Improved community skills and capacity to cultivate food and other crops.
Benefit targetProgressCOAG target
Eight communities supported to establish sustainable horticulture activities by 2011 - 2012.The Regional Landcare Facilitator is promoting and supporting land care and food gardening.
Four communities have active, food producing gardens in place.
Nine additional communities are being supported through the land care facilitator to trial the adoption of sustainable horticultural practices and to establish community gardens and nurseries.
An environmental education programme that embeds sustainable horticulture within the school curriculum is being delivered.
COAG Target 1 –Close the life expectancy gap within a generation.

a photograph of Clutch excavation, TSRA rangers on Bramble Cay

Clutch excavation, TSRA rangers on Bramble Cay. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)

Monitoring in place / baseline regional environmental data available

Baseline terrestrial and marine biodiversity datasets continue to be acquired to guide sustainable planning, priority setting, investment, project design, implementation and evaluation. Research through the NERP tropical ecosystems hub, and previous programmes, has contributed significantly to the development of more comprehensive regional baseline datasets. The TSRA now has internal capacity to manage geographic information system datasets and to develop maps and associated products to support management and planning activities, and has established important linkages with other initiatives and information sharing platforms. The TSRA has also facilitated effective ongoing collaboration between scientists and communities to identify and assess trends and the impacts of environmental and climate change on key species and ecosystems in the region.

Short-term benefit description
Monitoring in place / baseline data established and trend assessment in progress.
Benefit targetProgressCOAG target
Trend analysis contributing to environmental management initiatives realised progressively from July 2010.Environmental baseline data is in place to support sustainable land use planning for all inhabited islands.
Biodiversity profiles have been completed for all outer island communities.
Vegetation datasets and regional ecosystem maps have been completed for all communities.
Fire management profiles are available for Moa, Badu, Mabuiag, Saibai, Dauan, Boigu and Erub.
Seagrass surveys have been undertaken again at 11 sites on Mabuiag, Mer, Iama, Moa and Badu.
Coral monitoring surveys have been undertaken and rangers trained in coral monitoring techniques.
Turtle and dugong catch data provided by community members continues to be collated.
Green turtle nesting surveys have been undertaken annually since 2006 on Maizab Kaur (Bramble Cay) and Dauar Island. Flatback turtle nesting surveys, tagging, genetic sampling and satellite tracking activities are also contributing baseline population data.
The aerial dugong survey and draft report have been completed, highlighting no significant decline in Torres Strait dugong populations since surveys began.
The impacts of climate change are monitored using data retrieved from the sea surface temperature monitoring network, the installation of tide and sea level gauges and baseline data on coastal erosion.
Four tide gauges have been installed (Boigu, Iama, Kubin and Ugar) to monitor tides across the Torres Strait. A sea level gauge is also being constructed on Thursday Island wharf.
A marine water quality monitoring project is providing baseline data on the marine environment in the region, as well assessing the intrusion of pollutants into the Torres Strait from PNG.
COAG Target 1 –Close the life expectancy gap within a generation.

Number of communities engaged in and becoming aware of climate change impacts

The TSRA is working with all Torres Strait communities, government agencies and researchers to support whole-of-government policy coordination, research, planning and adaptive management for the threats posed by climate change, coastal erosion and inundation. The TSRA is also partnering with My Pathways and the Torres Strait Island Regional Council to deliver minor coastal works programmes on eight communities.

Short-term benefit description
Sensible and appropriate adaptation planning including for sea level rise.
Benefit targetProgressCOAG target
Regional climate change modelling and adaptive planning strategies are in place for communities by 2011 - 2012.Coastal hazard maps have been completed for the entire coast line of inhabited islands.
Community adaptation workshops have been trialled on three communities through the NERP funded building resilient futures for Torres Strait communities project run by the CSIRO.
A tide gauge network has been installed to measure tidal dynamics and sea level rise and to improve the accuracy of datum points.
Coastal hazard mapping has been fed into local government planning schemes.
Coastal impact mitigation option reports have been developed for the Mabuiag, Mer and Erub communities.
COAG Target 1 –Close the life expectancy gap within a generation.
A Climate Change Strategy Action Plan is to be developed by 2011 and implemented progressively from 2011.The Torres Strait climate change strategy and associated action plan have been revised and updated for release.
Major research and modelling components have been completed. The environmental and climate change monitoring framework is being developed.
A regional and community-based adaptation and resilience planning process has been initiated.

a photograph of Hatchling trenches on Bramble Cay

Hatchling trenches on Bramble Cay. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)

a photograph of Rangers discussing coral diversity

Rangers discussing coral diversity. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)

Case Study: Coral Reef Monitoring in Torres Strait

Project description

Coral reefs are fundamental to the culture, lives and livelihoods of Torres Strait Islanders. The ecosystem services provided by coral reefs are invaluable, and yet there is limited knowledge of their current condition and threats to their future health. The first instance of large-scale coral bleaching for the region was recorded in 2010. The extent of other potential impacts, such as crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and coral disease, are relatively unknown. Additionally, reefs in the Torres Strait are affected by the impacts of sea level and sea temperature changes, as well as regional threats such as increased shipping and the runoff from development activities in Papua New Guinea.

The TSRA, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Queensland, is conducting a project under the National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) entitled 'Monitoring the health of Torres Strait coral reefs'. Data collection under the coral monitoring project started in 2011.

This multifaceted project is already addressing some key gaps in our knowledge about coral reefs and the threats to their health, while fostering partnerships between the TSRA and researchers and building the skills and capacity of rangers.


The project aims to address critical knowledge gaps, build regional capacity and improve future regional marine natural resource management outcomes. It does so by developing appropriate monitoring mechanisms necessary to assess the biodiversity and health status of the Torres Strait's coral reefs. Over the longer term, the monitoring programme will gauge any changes against identified threats and the level of their impact. Its outcomes will benefit communities and rangers by empowering them to make informed decisions regarding their sea country and the contemporary threats to Torres Strait coral reefs.


In 2013, the TSRA formed their first snorkel team to work alongside coral reef researchers. The team, comprising 13 TSRA Environmental Management Programme staff, primarily rangers, completed training in reef health and impact survey and manta tow benthic survey monitoring methods. The snorkel team is also responsible for a variety of other project tasks, such as the retrieval and replacement of water temperature loggers across the Torres Strait.

Initial survey outcomes have identified previously unrecorded fish and hard-coral species, as well as occurrences of coral bleaching, coral disease and crown-of-thorns starfish in the region.

As part of this initiative, the TSRA assisted the AIMS with the installation and maintenance of two real-time weather stations located at Madge Reef (Thursday Island) and Masig that record various atmospheric and marine conditions. The data is used to develop an early warning reporting system for coral bleaching. This information is provided to communities to promote maritime safety in the region, as well as provide a record of changing climatic conditions over time.

This multifaceted project is already addressing some key gaps in our knowledge about coral reefs and the threats to their health, while fostering partnerships between the TSRA and researchers and building the skills and capacity of rangers.

a photograph of coral reefs of the Torres Strait are a natural habitat for the green turtle

The coral reefs of the Torres Strait are a natural habitat for the green turtle. (Photo: Tristan Simpson)