Gurriba Island (North-West Crocodile Island) is a small (285ha), sandy island approximately 50km from the mainland, and is part of the Crocodile Islands group in North-east Arnhemland. The sandy beaches of Gurriba are considered nationally significant nesting sites for the vulnerable Flatback and Green turtles, and the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle (NRETAS 2009). This island has also been traditionally visited by Yolngu to hunt turtles and collect turtle eggs.
It was one of our patron’s goals (the Senior land and sea Traditional Owner of the Malarra estate, and the 2012 Senior Australian of the Year), to establish a Turtle Sanctuary around Gurriba Island. Following her wishes, the Crocodile Islands Rangers’ Executive Committee discussed the Turtle Sanctuary at length with the Traditional Owners (TOs) for Gurriba Island and the surrounding seas. The TOs recognise their important role in helping to protect turtles and ensure turtles can keep breeding into the future, and they have taken the initiative to declare this area a Turtle Sanctuary. In their own words:
“In the past, Gurrmirringu was there and looked after the turtles, the surrounding waters and the island. Now, the Maringa Traditional Owners look after Gurriba and its turtles, surrounding waters and reefs.”
After a successful initial trial of 2 years, the Sanctuary is currently still in effect, with the ultimate objective to make this area a permanent Sanctuary. The agreed moratorium states that no person is to hunt for turtles, or turtle eggs, within the specified area.
The Crocodile Islands Rangers will continue to remove ghost nets and marine debris from Gurriba and the other Crocodile Islands, and to patrol the surrounding seas. If people are caught breaking the rules of this moratorium, the Rangers will bring this to the attention of the Executive Committee, for them to take appropriate action. The Rangers have also been helping to educate the community about the importance of this Sanctuary, and have installed signs on Milingimbi and Gurriba Islands, to both inform people about and celebrate this initiative.