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Tidal moon looks to resurrect centuries-old Sea Cucumber trade

David Prestipino -

A First Nations business operating on Western Australia's Coral Coast is resurrecting a centuries-old trade route between Indigenous Australians and Asia.

Denham-based Tidal Moon is a nod to the origins of Australian commerce, which began with the trade of sea cucumbers from Indigenous people from the Kimberley and Arnhem Land regions to the Macassan seafarers of modern-day Indonesia.

Tidal Moon managing director and Mulgana traditional owner Michael Wear said his goal was to preserve and enhance Indigenous heritage while creating a business that would remain viable for decades, and forge a path for more First Nations organisations to enter the lucrative commercial fishing industry.

Tidal Moon gained access to the sea cucumber fishery in Shark Bay in 2017, improving the lives and skills of traditional custodians, but is now fighting for a commercial licence so it can continue its good work.

"The whole purpose of Tidal Moon is about equality of access," he said.

"We want to be in the mainstream industry and have the ability to set up a business that's not reliant on grants or funding but stands on its own as a First Nations-owned company."

While Tidal Moon's focus is sea cucumber fishing, it has also established several exciting partnerships with the likes of the CSIRO, APEC and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, helping the latter determine the health benefits of sea cucumbers, particular in cancer treatments.

The wild sea cucumber harvesting business, which was kickstarted in 2019 after a $92,000 investment from the Indigenous Land and Sea Council, has also established one of the world's largest seagrass restoration projects through BHP's Blue Carbon initiative, targeting a portion of the estimated 100,000 hectares of damaged sea grass meadows in Shark Bay, and Michael was also invited to the most recent APEC forum in his position on the global Indigenous committee of the World Economic Forum..

Tidal Moon has thus far trained and employed more than 10 Malgana traditional custodians in dive operations since launch, delivering certified training in marine industry operations through a partnership with the TAFE WA Maritime Centre.

Divers also record all their interactions in nature, with Michael planning to create a 'Living Library' in conjunction with the CSIRO of Indigenous observations with the environment.

Export opportunities are also in demand, with sea cucumbers considered a delicacy in Asia and also popular across Europe, prized for their culinary and medicinal properties.

Tidal Moon's potential lucrative export contract with a Singapore company was recently skittled when its five-year fishing licence obtained through a Minister's Exemption expired in July.

Mr Wear said the WA government had placed roadblocks to Tidal Moon's growth on a local front, leaving the company somewhat floating while it fights for a commercial licence, which would enable further development.

"Government policy is slowing our growth," he said.

"There's all these government-funded programs, welfare dependence on the state... there's no access to mainstream industries, like commercial fishing.

"We want First Nations companies to be able to grow as much as they want, so long as they succeed of course.

"With that comes the benefit of developing human capital in Indigenous people and growing their careers through skills and training and experience."

Mr Wear said he believed the representation of First Nations people in WA's commercial fishing industry was around 0.4 per cent of its entire $900m annual export market.

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