Young Traditional Owners from the Great Barrier Reef sea Country are being called on to help protect the Great Barrier Reef from crown-of-thorns starfish.

The Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Control and Leadership program will deliver training to Traditional Owners aged between 20 and 30 years old, of the Great Barrier Reef.

In collaboration with the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and INLOC, training will focus on conservation, ecosystem management, marine operations and leadership.

Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation project manager and Yirriganydji man Gavin Singleton said the starfish was damaging to the reef.

“The natural predators for crown of thorns starfish are low in numbers, they’re not there, they’re not doing their job,” he said.

“With the COTS eating the coral and with other impacts happening on the Great Barrier Reef at the same time, it doesn’t really allow the coral to bounce back as quick as it should.

“There’s a lot of other wildlife that depend on coral and on each other as part of that ecosystem so it does have an impact.”

The program has been co-designed with a Traditional Owner advisory group and will combine hands-on learning and classroom time.

Mr Singleton said the program aims to equip young Traditional Owners with basic understanding of the reef and biology so they can build their skills in the future.

“They’ll get some basic introductory understanding about the reef, so they’ll some of the biology,” he said.

“They’ll learn about COTS and the reef itself but then they’ll learn some of the basic diving and boating skills over the first year with some leadership training.

Picture of someone snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef and writing something on an underwater chalkboard
A diver part of the COTS GBRTO program. Photo supplied.

“From there if they really want to go in a future career they’ll be trained into a dive master or a coxswain skipper of a boat.”

Knowledge learnt can be brought back into communities to help maintain Country, Singleton said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity now where we are starting to see more engagement with Traditional Owner groups,” he said.

“And how Traditional Owner groups can benefit in some shape or form from this process by nominating candidates from individual communities to build their skills.

“Not just for those individuals themselves to work in the marine industry…but how they could bring their skills back to each community to help build capability for their own communities.”

More than 70 Traditional Owner groups span the length of the Great Barrier Reef and continue to maintain Lore and customs through custodial responsibility and obligations.