• Culture

The Gamay Rangers: Caring for Sea Country

Meet the Indigenous Environmental Rangers that care for Country in Gamay (Botany Bay)

In partnership with Ocean Lover’s Festival

By Felicity Bonello

Introducing the unique Indigenous team of rangers caring for sea at Botany Bay. Passionate about sharing their knowledge and protecting sea country, the Gamay Rangers direct natural and cultural resource management activities on cultural areas within Botany Bay. As well as patrolling the waters of Botany Bay, they manage and implement the care of marine mammal awareness and protection, threatened species management, environmental awareness for recreational vessel operators and so so much more. Senior Gamay Ranger, Robert Cooley explains the great work these good folk do each and every day.

who are the Gamay Rangers?

Gamay refers to the body of water around Botany Bay. And our team takes care of sea country within our cultural boundary, which can extend beyond our land council boundary but it’s anywhere from North Head down to the Shoal Haven. We were established in 2019 as part of the Commonwealth Governments Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program. 

We’re one of three or four Indigenous Ranger teams in NSW but the only one that’s primarily ocean based. We lobbied the Commonwealth Government for a team so we could have a voice, an influence in how things are managed in the Bay, and also the resources to assist in fixing some of the impacts of urbanisation on the environment; in and around the biggest city in the country, with the biggest airport, the biggest port, the biggest fuel storage centres, and one of the largest recreational boating and recreational fishing havens in the country. 

How does Indigenous ocean governance work to benefit the ocean?

We work with various companies and organisations, State Government, and council agencies all around the Bay to try to influence them to do things a little bit better. But we didn’t want to raise issues if we didn’t have a solution, and part of that solution for us was working with research institutions to understand the science around why we have declining ocean habitat and problems in our ocean and the causes of that; we then bounce that off our cultural knowledge, how we see things change, and we come up with solutions that we think are a better way of managing things. 

We’re also now enrolling some of our young rangers into Marine Science Degrees and that should have a big impact on managing sea country within our community.

Gamay Rangers

Gamay Rangers. Image Michaela Skovranova

You’re predominantly ocean based but are you land based as well?

We are. A lot of our special cultural sites sit within National Parks Estate, so we’ve taken a greater role in managing those sites; things like engravings on the ocean shoreline which are all effected by pollution, vandalism, climate change, rising ocean levels. Because our special places sit so close to the water, they’re all impacted by those shorelines. 

We also manage 96 hectares of conservation land that sits within the desalinisation plant at Kurnell and the Cronulla boat harbour shacks at the northern end of the Cronulla section of beaches. We manage that land in accordance and consultation with our community and push forward on the way they think it should be managed. We also work with National Parks and Wildlife around cultural site protection during planned burns, hazard reduction or land management burns, to ensure our sites are protected. 

What does a day in the life of a Gamay Sea Ranger look like?

Every day is different. Today we were repatriating remains that were excavated in 2004 from an industrial site in Kurnell. As people are undertaking construction, still today remains of our people are being uncovered in industrial sites, so we negotiate with the various organisations to release those remains to us and our community and repatriate them in several different repatriation sites around this Bay. It’s an important and critical role for us. We’ve repatriated more than 300 remains of our people uncovered around the Gamay area since around 2000.

Gamay Rangers cariing for Ocean Country

What is a key initiative for the Gamay Rangers right now?

One of our keys tasks is the restoration of the seagrass habitat around the Bay area. Research has estimated we’ve lost 95 per cent of that ocean habitat which is critical in supporting fish species which are culturally significant to us. We’re currently working with Sydney Students of Marine Science at UNSW to restore some of that habitat and create an awareness. Things like blue swimmer crabs, flathead, bream, mullet, and Sydney white seals, it’s prime habitat for these animals – they camouflage and take refuge from predators and it’s also where they get their food from. We are trying to create awareness about boat wash, anchoring, and moorings; all those things affect this habitat. If we don’t have that habitat, we don’t have the fish, and that can affect the health and wellbeing of our community. 

How can we help the Gamay Rangers?

We can work together. Initiatives like the Ocean Lovers Festival are a really great place to create awareness around what to look out for and respect whenever we walk on Country, as we’re walking on a place that our ancestors have walked for thousands of years. We do understand that times have changed now and that we all walk this land together but it’s hitting home that it’s all our responsibility, not just the indigenous community or environmentalists, to conserve and preserve the land. 


To hear more from the Gamay Rangers head to this year’s Volvo Ocean Lovers Festival at Bondi Beach from March 15-19. And in the interim, to find out more about the incredible Seagrass for Sea Change initiative, watch the short film here.


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