#SpiritofSeaCountry

Kul-Bul: Spirit of Sea Country

Yirrganydji Land and Sea Rangers, GBR Biology, Reef Restoration Foundation & project partners
Saxon, Norman and Hastings Reefs

Acknowledgement of Country

Meet Gavin Singleton, Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger

From Cairns to Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, the Sea Country has sustained the lives of Yirrganydji Traditional Owners for generations. As custodians of this coastline, the Yirrganydji people hold a wealth of traditional ecological and bio-cultural knowledge which they use to protect and manage Sea Country for future generations.

Brian Singleton, Senior Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger
Sea Country is part of our culture - we’ve got a responsibility to look after not only the Reef but also the stories that have been told for thousands of years.
Brian Singleton, Senior Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger

“Yurrbin Mamingal”

The Yirrganydji people hold the concept of “Caring for our coral reef”, or in the Yirrgay dialect “Yurrbin mamingal” in high regard. We recognise other First Nations across the Great Barrier Reef who share the same aspirations and values to ensure the long term sustainability, resilience and protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

Yirrganydji Rangers aboard Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel
Yirrganydji Rangers aboard Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel
Image: Brad Fisher / Ikatere Photography

Kul-Bul (Spirit of Sea Country)

The Kul-Bul project is a collaborative reef health program based on Traditional Owner perspectives and contemporary know-how – designed to help those on the Reef help the Reef.

The first reef conservation project led by Traditional Owners, Kul-Bul will combine Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) with contemporary biological monitoring practices to holistically assess the health of coral reef sites. This project aims to produce a scalable program for tourism operators and Traditional Owners to promote and conserve the outstanding natural and cultural values of the Great Barrier Reef.

Kul-Bul team in action on Yirrganydji Sea Country
Kul-Bul team in action on Yirrganydji Sea Country
Image: Brad Fisher / Ikatere Photography

Shared knowledge

The aim of Kul-Bul is to develop a functional ‘decision tree’ to help select appropriate intervention techniques, based on local conditions and knowledge, to boost coral reef health across the Great Barrier Reef. Methods such as coral outplanting, rubble stabilisation techniques, coral larval reseeding and crown-of-thorns starfish control will be incorporated into the tool.

The Kul-Bul decision tree is intended to be easily shared with, and applied by, Traditional Owners groups across the length of the Great Barrier Reef to deliver vital insights for management and advance conservation outcomes for the Reef.

Yirrganydji Ranger snorkelling over a reef site
Yirrganydji Ranger snorkelling over a reef site
Image: Brad Fisher / Ikatere Photography

Site selection

Kul-Bul is being piloted on Saxon, Norman and Hastings Reefs which are located in Yirrganydji Sea Country and have significant cultural importance. Being close to Cairns, these reefs are visited daily by reef tourism operators giving them high socio-economic value.

Long-term monitoring has shown that Saxon, Norman and Hastings Reefs have been influenced by past disturbances such as cyclones, mass coral bleaching and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish. Ecologically all three reefs are important but in terms of connectivity, Saxon Reef is considered a ‘source reef’, which has the capacity to assist in the recovery of surrounding reefs.

Snorkellers enjoying the Reef
Snorkellers enjoying the Reef
Image: Brad Fisher / Ikatere Photography

A global icon under threat

The Great Barrier Reef received World Heritage status in 1981, acknowledging its outstanding ecological, social and heritage values. There are approximately 70 Traditional Owner groups whose Sea Country includes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, with cultural connections dating back over 60,000 years.

The Reef is also an important economic driver, with activities like tourism, commercial fishing and research supporting 64,000 full-time jobs and contributing more than $6.4 billion to the Australian economy annually. As a global natural icon, millions of people from all over the world visit the Reef every year to experience its extraordinary beauty and marine life.

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 3,000 individual reefs
The Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 3,000 individual reefs

In recent decades, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced an ongoing decline in its health from cumulative human impacts.

Climate change is the Reef’s greatest threat, with increasing atmospheric temperatures causing more frequent and severe coral bleaching, extreme weather events, ocean acidification and mangrove dieback. Poor water quality from agricultural runoff and land-clearing smothers reefs and increases algae growth, while marine plastics are killing and injuring threatened species.

But given the immense size of the Reef, these impacts are not uniform — the ecosystem is a patchwork of healthy, degraded and recovering reefs and everything in between. As these impacts accelerate, the need to identify areas of coral disturbance and recovery becomes more important to help managers and custodians better target their resources and protections.

Collaboration is key

The Kul-Bul Project is a collaboration between Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation, GBR Biology, Reef Restoration Foundation, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, TropWATER and Mars Sustainable Solutions. It is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government's Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation

Dawul Wuru
Aboriginal Corporation

Dawul Wuru runs the Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger program and takes the lead in the incorporation of Indigenous Cultural Knowledge for the project.

GBR Biology

GBR
Biology

GBR Biology coordinates the scientific application for the project using their tourism vessel, Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel, the first Indigenous tourism vessel on the GBR.

Reef Restoration Foundation

Reef Restoration
Foundation

Reef Restoration Foundation makes use of their extensive community engagement and restoration expertise to help the team to achieve practical and impactful outcomes.

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef

Citizens of the
Great Barrier Reef

Citizens leads the external communications for the project with the key aim of enabling the future success and adoption of the project more broadly across the Great Barrier Reef.

Mars Sustainable Solutions

Mars
Sustainable Solutions

Mars Sustainable Solutions, part of Mars Incorporated, advises on coral reef restoration for the project and develops successful techniques such as the MARRS Stars.

JCU TropWATER

JCU
TropWATER

JCU’s TropWATER provides scientific advice, training and support to the project team to drive research and monitoring of reef habitats in Yirrganydji Sea Country.

Dawul Wuru Aboriginal CorporationGBR BiologyReef Restoration Foundation
GBRF Reef TrustMars Sustainable SolutionsJCU