The Earthshots Prize folks have a vision – indigenous women rangers spanning the planet, helping to repair ecosystems from Hawaii to Nepal and Tanzania, blending Indigenous knowledge and digital technologies.
They awarded the 2022 ‘Revive Our Oceans’ prize to the Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network, in Australia. Accepting the prestigious £1 million prize, co-ordinator Larissa Hale noted that the Queensland program ‘is the only First Nations women’s program linking technological solutions and start-up opportunities to environmental outcomes ‘on country’ in Australia.”
“Winning one of the five 2022 Earthshot Prizes is a gamechanger for our women’s ranger network that exists to protect the Great Barrier Reef and all our vital land and sea country – our home,” she said. It means “we can grow the number of Indigenous women rangers, plus have 200 girls in an education program, inspiring the next generation of Indigenous rangers.”
“Beyond that, our ambition is to reach out to a network of countries around the world to build a global collective helping to repair the planet. This would create a global groundswell of First Nations female led conservation programs, the largest effort of its kind on the planet.”
A Yuku Baja Muliku woman from Archer Point, she grew up on the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, fishing with her uncles, and more than 20 years ago, promised her grandfather Jack that she would always fight for her people and their country.
In 2008, she helped establish the Yuku Baja Muliku Ranger Program in Archer Point, her hometown. It encompasses 22,500 hectares and borders two of Australia’s World Heritage Areas – the wet tropical rainforests of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. The ranger program gives Traditional Owners a lead role in managing and caring for their land and sea using traditional knowledge and practices.
The local rangers are leading critical work to protect threatened species and habitats. When Cyclone Yasi wiped out seagrass meadows at Archer Point in 2011, the turtle population was left without an essential food source. An emergency rehabilitation team to care for the turtles has grown into the Yuku Baja Muliku Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.
“I think scientists are starting to listen and understand that Traditional Owners know what they’re talking about,” she says. “Scientists are realizing that if we work with Traditional Owners, we’re going to get better outcomes.” Larissa chairs the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s Traditional Owner Advisory Group, which works to ensure traditional owners’ are involved and leading programs that are helping the Reef heal.
The first Indigenous female ranger coordinator in Queensland, Larissa was instrumental in growing the number of Indigenous female rangers in Queensland from 19 to 124. She helped establish the Queensland Indigenous Women’s Ranger Network in 2018. “I think that with the Indigenous Women’s Ranger Network, people started realizing ‘hang on, women can do this job’,” she says.
The network, co-designed by Indigenous women, government and non-government agencies, land councils and other stakeholders, provides a forum for women rangers to share their experiences, ideas and information; provide support and advice; and enable connections in remote and isolated communities.
QIWRN is delivered by Yuku Baja Muliku Landowner and Reserves, the successful recipients of a joint State Government and WWF Australia grant to establish a state-wide women’s land and sea ranger network.
Queensland women’s Indigenous ranger program wins £1 million Earthshot Prize. Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Dec. 3, 2022.
Larissa Hale: ‘Working with Traditional Owners leads to better outcomes for the Reef’. Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Aug. 24, 2022.
Photo credits: The lovely photographs come from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s stories about the network.