Ilka White and Karen Hethey with the St Pauls Community Moa Island
GhostNets Australia is an alliance of over 30 Indigenous communities from coastal northern Australia, from the Northern Territory, across the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Torres Strait. The program was established in 2004 with funding from the Australian Government. Since its inception, the program has supported Indigenous Rangers to remove over 8,000 ghost nets of varying sizes, some weighing up to six tonnes. This has resulted in the recovery of a proportion of the trapped wildlife, particularly marine turtles (52%), and the prevention of the ghost nets from returning to the sea to continue their destructive lifecycle. Less than 10% of these nets have been attributed to Australian fisheries. This project is also enabling Aboriginal communities to fulfil their aspirations of having stewardship of their customary lands and adjacent marine environment, known as ‘caring for country’. St Pauls community is one of two communities on Moa Island, the second largest island in the Torres Strait. St Pauls is located on the northern end of the island, accessible by boat and aeroplane. Similar to surrounding islands, Moa is characterised by mounds of rock and is lightly vegetated and well watered.
In 2010, St Pauls village on Moa Island celebrated not only the first puppet show of its kind in the Torres Strait, but also the first puppet show ever made out of ghost nets and marine debris. Artists Ilka White and Karen Hethey spent four weeks on Moa drawing together people’s real life experiences of seeing the damage ghost nets do to sea creatures like turtles, dugongs, coral reef and mangroves, and also the dangers they present for people crossing the open waters between islands. Materials were collected locally and puppets woven together in community workshops, with the arts centre, schools, churches and wider community all contributing significantly. The story was told using a shadow-puppet screen, narration, live music and full choir. The audience sang and wept their way through the story of a young fisherman’s encounters with ghost nets, performed by around 65 local musicians, singers and puppeteers of all ages.
The ghost net issue is an international one as nearly all (90%) of the marine debris entering the northern coastal and island regions of Australia is of a fishing nature and originates from South East Asia. GhostNets Australia initiated the puppet project as well as the film of the process, including the lead up to the performance, interviews with locals and the final show. The puppets and film have kindly been lent for inclusion in Life in Your Hands.
A large percentage of the [St Pauls] community was involved in the project. Community members found it very rewarding and felt proud to be part of it. Many were quite emotional and it affected them deeply. Sue Ryan GhostNets Australia 2012