Torres Strait Marine Foraging and Resource Utilization

EPA Grant Number: U915413
Title: Torres Strait Marine Foraging and Resource Utilization
Investigators: Norman, Karma C.
Institution: University of Washington
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 28, 1998 through September 28, 2001
Project Amount: $84,755
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Biology/Life Sciences , Fellowship - Anthropology


The objectives of this research project are to: (1) gather and analyze data on Torres Strait Islander marine resource use; and (2) evaluate two competing models of human utilization of natural resources. The data and subsequent evaluations will contribute to an enhanced understanding of the microecology of fishing, such that localized and cooperative management institutions have a stronger basis for effective management of coastal resources.


This research project will make use of extensive participant observation so that quantitative and qualitative data on Islander marine foraging behaviors can be obtained. Quantitative data on the size of resources harvested, including shellfish and reef fish, will be compared relative to the locations in which the resources were acquired. Of significant comparative value are any potential size differences that may occur in foraging patches subject to differing access regimes. Torres Strait waters feature regions of open access, where the law of capture may apply, as well as clan and community-based fishing and foraging territories. An optimal foraging model of human resource use predicts that defendable territories of limited access are likely to produce conservation-oriented behaviors such as forgoing the harvest of smaller, immature marine animals. Thus, a negative correlation is expected between the size of the group with access to a patch and the size of the resources harvested in that patch. An alternative view of small-scale human societies holds that they are often, in a broad sense, socially invested in conserving future stocks. This view predicts that a cultural conservation ethic would operate whether subsistence foraging occurs in limited or open access areas, and the mean size of resources harvested would remain consistent throughout Islander fisheries. I plan to test these and other alternative hypotheses, regarding marine resource management. Field research will be supplemented by an examination of published work on similar case studies, including those in other areas of the Pacific.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, optimal foraging, marine resources, traditional fishing, marine tenure, Torres Strait, cooperative management, conservation ethic., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, exploratory research environmental biology, Chemical Mixtures - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Oceanography, Anthropology, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Effects - Human Health, Ecology and Ecosystems, International, Ecological Indicators, Meriam people of Australia, foraging model, marine harvesting, Meriam Foraging, Australia, microecology of fishing, shellfish foragers, Torres Strait Islands, Australia

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1999
  • 2000
  • Final