Redbird Ferguson - AIMS@JCU

Redbird Ferguson

Recipient of an AIMS@JCU Scholarship

College of Science and Engineering

Redbird Ferguson

College of Science and Engineering
Best Practice Framework for Collaborative Approaches to Indigenous Cultural Mapping for Sea Country Management

Redbird Ferguson commenced her PhD candidature at James Cook University in 2020, after receiving a First-Class Honours in Archaeology at JCU in 2019. She is interested in long distance exchange networks, how communities remain connected, human – environment interactions, and cultural heritage management in today’s changing climate. Recently, Redbird has been working as a GIS Analyst for the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s Yellow Crazy Ant Eradication in protected area management. Her PhD project aims to co-develop a best practice framework for Indigenous Cultural Mapping of Sea Country.

Best Practice Framework for Collaborative Approaches to Indigenous Cultural Mapping for Sea Country Management

2020 to 2024

Project Description

The aim of this PhD is to co-develop an Indigenous cultural mapping framework to improve the way Indigenous knowledge and cultural values are brought alongside Western science to inform Indigenous-led sea country management. Adopting an Indigenous-led process will ensure that the project focus is relevant to the local community; the research process is governed by local decision-making structures; and the project addresses key risk issues for land and sea management.

Project Importance

The growth in Indigenous partnerships with government and industry has increased demand for Indigenous cultural mapping frameworks. The Current patchwork of approaches range from token inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) to collaborative participation. A framework developed through a project co-led with an Indigenous Prescribed Body (PBC) can re-inscribe IK into spatial representations of sea country. Advancements in planning methodologies, including Geographic Information Systems, have led to improved natural resource management practices across the globe. However, these technologies continue to be deployed according to colonial models and perpetuate the erasure of IK from geographic representations. This results in IK continuing to be underrepresented in sea country planning, management practices, climate change adaptation and mitigation planning, and economic decision making. This project will work with Indigenous peoples using two-way sharing of knowledge and perceptions of risks to country and contribute to place-based risk reduction strategies. The results will provide a strong foundation to develop climate adaptation plans based on Indigenous cultural and environmental values. They will establish a best practice framework for collaborative approaches to Indigenous cultural mapping of sea country and build capacity to empower Sea Country managers to move towards autonomous management of their country. This outcome will enable Sea Country managers to advocate and leverage their knowledge of country more effectively when engaging with state and corporate structures.

Project Methods

The co-development of an Indigenous Cultural Mapping Framework will occur as part of already planned projects within the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) Indigenous Partnerships Plan (IPP) program. This project will follow the AIMS IPP protocols and lines of communication in accordance with the relevant PBCs’ governance processes.
Collaborating with the PBC will determine the specific methods and technologies to collect and analyse the quantitative and qualitative data. Indigenous cultural knowledge, including tangible and intangible cultural heritage and values, is the core foundation of the framework.

Quantitative data for tangible heritage and landscape datasets will be collected locally using drones and foot surveys. These datasets will be supplemented from open access online sources, including but not limited to, government websites and Good Earth Pro, and archival data from the National Library of Australia and state museums. Open-access resources will be the primary focus to increase accessibility of this data to Indigenous communities.

Project Results

Preliminary research indicates that this is an area that could benefit from a standardised framework for Indigenous Cultural mapping. A best practice framework has the potential to set up a standard of practice for partnership and planning.


Climate change,
Coastal development,
Commercial use,
Communication / Education,
Coral reefs,
Deep sea,
Economic development,
Field based,
Fishing impact,
Flowering plants,
Human use,
Indigenous culture,
Jelly fish,
Management tools,
Marine planning,
Marine worms,
Natural disturbance,
Porifera (sponges),
Qualitative techniques,
Quantitative marine science,
Remote Sensing,
Rocky reefs,
Sea anemones,
Sea grass,
Sea level rise,
Sea snakes,
Seagrass beds,
Sediment dwellers,
Sharks / Rays,
Social interactions,
Soft bottom,
Squid / cuttlefish / octopus,
Temporal change,
Tunicates (Sea squirts),