Facilitating the Transition from Mining to Blue Economy: Groote Eylandt Launches Innovative Aquaponics Project

Groote Eylandt, 28.6.2023 – The Anindilyakwa people of the remote Groote Archipelago have embarked on a remarkable transformation as they counter the forthcoming forfeiture of royalty revenue from the winding-down manganese mine, which has been the mainstay of their economy for 58 years. In a determined effort to safeguard their land, language, and culture while seeking profitable economic prospects, they are diving deep into the Blue Economy.

Today, we are thrilled to announce the beginning of a forward-thinking project that marks a significant step in this transformative journey. The Groote Aqua Aboriginal Corporation (GAAC), under the stewardship of the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC), has partnered with the Northern Hub to initiate a pioneering aquaponics system on Groote Eylandt.

The aquaponics system, funded by the Northern Hub through the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund, represents a shift from traditional soil-based farming to a water-based cultivation method that harnesses the Archipelago’s pristine aquatic environment and crystal-clear waters. This innovative approach aligns with the community’s aspirations of respecting local resources, creating a carbon offset economy, providing food security, optimising nutrition, and striving for self-sufficiency.

We, the Anindilyakwa people are Saltwater People. For us, our country is not just the land but also the sea that surrounds it to the horizon and beyond. That is our country. My father used to say – ‘The sea is our supermarket’ – Tony Wurramarrba, Chairman of the Anindilyakwa Land Council.

The Groote Eylandt aquaponics system is set to revolutionise agricultural practices in the region. By combining aquaculture and hydroponics into one integrated system, the project will cultivate a diverse range of vegetables and leafy greens alongside freshwater delicacies such as barramundi, cherrabin prawns, and red claw crayfish. This ground-breaking system is expected to be operational by mid-year, with first-year yield reports and learnings due in June 2024.

In addition to its agricultural benefits, the project holds numerous advantages for the Anindilyakwa community and the broader region. It will contribute to economic resilience and autonomy, foster the growth of the Blue Economy, ensure sustainable food security, and align with the cultural and land values of the Anindilyakwa people. Moreover, the project will empower community members, create employment opportunities, and facilitate infrastructural expansion for a stable food supply. It will also serve as a valuable training centre, fostering skill development and training in sustainable development practices.

“Aquaponics is a way to address return to Country, food security and food nutrition, whilst creating new capabilities. This is an ideal project for areas with limited agricultural potential to embark in a better way to care for Country and provide nutritious food to Community,” says Dr Veronica Toral-Granda.

The success of this aquaponics project would not be possible without the collaborative efforts of the Anindilyakwa Land Council, the Groote Aqua Aboriginal Corporation, and the Northern Hub. Through their partnership, they are driving innovation, sustainability, and economic prosperity for the Groote Eylandt community.

“My favourite quote is ‘Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed’ (Antoine Lavoisier). In an aquaponic system the ‘waste’ from the fish is a key ingredient to maintain plant health and growth. Instead of feeding just one species (fish) and having nitrogen waste in your effluent water, which can damage the environment, we work with nature and have complementary species that clean the water (plants and red claws) so more healthy foods are produced out of the same amount of feed given to the fish. The result is more healthy food for healthier people without detrimental environmental impacts and minimal freshwater use,” says Dr. Valentin Thépot.

As we embark on this exciting journey, we invite all stakeholders, partners, and members of the media to join us in celebrating the launch of the Groote Eylandt aquaponics project. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable future for the Anindilyakwa people and the Groote Archipelago.