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A brilliant, no DAZZLING, turquoise sea is how I will always remember my first visit to the Torres Strait. The vivid intensity of colour smacking me in the face as I passed over the water from the airport on Horn Island to the central hub of the Torres Strait, Thursday Island.

The Australian Marine Environment Protection Association (AUSMEPA) and partners Maritime Safety Qld (MSQ) and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) sent me on an errand to meet with Tagai College and the various agencies that oversee the Torres Strait Region in an effort to find a possible education solution related to better boating and safety behaviours to protect the coastal and marine environments.

It's not hard to understand that pretty much everybody has a boat or two when you learn that Queensland 's Torres Strait has over 200 islands stretching from the mainland up to the bottom of Papua New Guinea!

The movement of water in the Straits makes for some difficult conditions. It was reported to me that one boat actually snapped in half when it ran over a hidden ghost net in the water at speed. Marine debris flows into the strait from Indonesia and, being isolated from services that we take for granted in the city, a range of types of pollution are also a local problem on the islands.

On many islands fresh water is a problem. Luckily some of the islands have a lens of fresh water underneath, just like in the classic novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. However those 'reservoirs' are quite limited and can be contaminated if not cared for.

All supplies including water and food not procurable on the islands comes into the port by cargo ship. As a result packaging waste is a problem as are hard metal things that are quickly corroded by the warm salty air. There is one rubbish tip on Horn Island so it isn't surprising to find discarded household things scattered around that didn't make it across the water to the tip. My favourite, though, was a strategically positioned car bench seat under a tree offering a wonderfully pleasant sheltered spot to watch the waves roll into the shore. I'm calling that excellent repurposing.

After successful meetings with all the stakeholders we set out a plan and developed an education program around boating safety and how to minimise pollution. AUSMEPA's Bob Winters and I returned to set in motion workshops with 18 students from 2 islands. We looked at both traditional and western knowledge.  Students learned how to prevent harmful impacts of things like litter, ghost nets, climate change, pollution from boats and threats to Turtles and local fisheries as well as investigating marine environmental threats to the community.

The most impressive outcomes from the workshop were 2 literacy readers. One whole book was devoted to basic boating safety education and one related to environmental issues. Funding allowed us to give 400 hard copy readers of each book to the schools.

The students were the stars of both publications. Their images shine through the pages and they have become the experts in their communities. They are recorded as the authors of the books because we took their words and massaged them into top notch English resources that subsequently became curriculum materials for all of the schools across the Torres Strait. When the books were printed each of the students was  given a copy to keep for themselves and a few more for their family members.

Junior Ranger BookCurious to see for yourself? You can take a look as these books, like all AUSMEPA's marine education resources, are free and downloadable from our website here: https://www.ausmepa.org.au/educators/aboriginal/

 

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