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Tasmania project supports 10,000 years of Aboriginal conservation

July 9, 2020

Australia’s Aboriginal people are one of the world’s oldest civilizations, if not the oldest, stretching back tens of thousands of years. A new Seacology project is supporting Aboriginal stewardship of the ecosystems of Big Dog Island, which has continued uninterrupted for an estimated 10,000 years.

Big Dog Island is one of more than 300 islands that make up the Australian state of Tasmania. Located in the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and Tasmania’s main island, half of the island is covered with tussock grassland. These sprawling fields are an important rookery for the short-tailed shearwater, or mutton bird.

Mutton birds, or yula, are prized for their meat and oil, which studies indicate may confer health benefits. “Muttonbirding” is one of the world’s longest-running food-gathering traditions, and Big Dog Island is the site of the longest running muttonbirding operation on Earth.


The project will remove invasive species from the island's grasslands.

Short-tailed shearwater

One of three Islands returned to the Aboriginal community in 1995, Big Dog Island is now managed by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. The Aboriginal community has been working diligently to restore the island’s ecosystems, previously neglected after overharvesting of the birds, the introduction of invasive species, and other threats.

The island is uninhabited by humans, except during birding season. Traditional Aboriginal conservation methods keep yula populations stable and preserve culturally important practices.

Our project supports the protection of the tussock grass rookeries. The community has pledged to protect the 874-acre island for 10 years, clearing invasive weeds and pest plants, ensuring that birds are not hunted illegally, and keeping sheep and cattle off the island.

Seacology is funding installation of solar power at a house on the island used to educate visiting students about cultural practices, their Aboriginal heritage, and conservation. The equipment will replace an aging diesel generator, reducing air pollution.

For more about the Aboriginal management of Big Dog Island, check out the tayaritja Healthy Country Plan.