Sunday, 28 July 2013

Water model crosses the cultural barrier

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Waterhole Kimberley“Gooniyandi people know that when the river and creeks are running it is time to target catfish, Long-necked turtle, Barramundi and Spangled perch,” the paper says. Image: Phil WhitehouseAN INTER-disciplinary team has been developing a model to assess the likely ecological consequences of changing water-management practices in the central Kimberley.

The model incorporates scientific hydrogeological knowledge and indigenous ecological knowledge.

CSIRO ecological modelling specialist Dr Adam Liedloff says his colleague Dr Emma Woodward spent several years with Goonyandi elders developing a seasonal calendar, based on traditional knowledge of the upper Fitzroy and Margaret River catchments.

He says Goonyandi seasons are based on observations of natural phenomena, not fixed dates.

“The seasonal calendar focuses on aquatic species (mainly fish), their ecological attributes and association with aquatic habitats across the annual seasonal cycle,” the paper says.

“At the beginning of Moongoowarla (cold weather time) when the river is high, the appearance of red dragonflies confirm that it is a good time for catching fat (good eating condition) sawfish.”

The paper also says that Marchflies arrive when all the fish are fat and are believed to protect the Freshwater crocodiles who are laying their eggs.

“Gooniyandi people know that when the river and creeks are running it is time to target catfish, Long-necked turtle, Barramundi and Spangled perch,” it says.

“However, once the Moongoowarla wind starts blowing from the east, the weather cools and fish are reported to ‘shut their mouths’, making fishing challenging.”

These changes are an example of the data that the researchers correlated with observations of the lower Fitzroy River water levels and flow provided by hydrologist Dr Glenn Harrington, to develop a Baysian predictive model.

“He puts together the understanding of the water and what will happen as we start diverting surface water and extracting ground water,” Dr Liedloff says.

“Emma [Woodward] came in with a very detailed understanding of the Indigenous ecological knowledge and I came in with the modelling understanding.

“We put them all together with the hope that the model might produce some insight into what the change in water management might mean to the Indigenous understanding, and bring those two together.

Dr Liedloff says the next step involves taking the model out into the field and explaining the changes to the elders from their perspective.

“Because their perspective is built into it, it’s not a foreign model, to try and explain what the future might hold,” he says.

“Because it’s a scientifically published model that has some rigour it can also be used on the policy and planning side.”


This story is based on an interview with Dr Liedloff and the paper Liedloff et al Integrating indigenous ecological and scientific hydro-geological knowledge using a Bayesian Network in the context of water resource development which has been peer-reviewed and is due to be published in the Elsevier Journal of Hydrology this year.

The research was a joint venture of CSIRO and the Tropical Knowledge and Coastal Research Program (TRaCK).

A similar ecological study incorporating an Indigenous calendar is available here and research into flora and fauna’s ability to regenerate after drought in the Gulf of Carpentaria can be seen here.

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