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By  Monika Andersen 11 January 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • We have collaborated with the Tiwi Island community to launch a pilot project for a tiger prawn industry.
  • Learning from Vietnam's successful prawn farming industry, the initiative empowers Northern Australian communities to improve their sustainable practices.
  • Establishing prawn farms on the Tiwi Islands contributes to economic prosperity while respecting cultural traditions and practices.

On the serene Tiwi Islands, Simon Irvin and his five-person team are reshaping tiger prawn farming.

Northern Australia holds untapped potential for sustainable prawn farming. Simon is our aquaculture biology team leader. He and his team are building opportunities and improving outcomes for remote communities.

In a co-design model, we have partnered with Tiwi Resources and the Portaminni Trust. This means all partners collaboratively design the pilot to create a path to a more sustainable future for the Tiwi Islands.

Our Indigenous Science and Engagement Program worked with the Northern Steering Committee to facilitate engagement, leverage resources and provide an extra cultural lens for CSIRO. These partnerships helped Traditional Owners and other stakeholders travel to Vietnam to learn from their successful prawn farming industry.

Simon and his team connected with Tiwi Resources and the Portaminni Trust in Darwin.

Co-design unlocks innovation

Co-design ensures the research respects Indigenous perspectives. It also addresses the specific needs and goals of the community, as determined by that community. 

Through co-design, research projects gain a better understanding and context. Their findings can be more easily applied and tailored to the unique conditions of Northern Australia, specifically the Tiwi Islands.

Tiwi Resources represent the eight land-owning groups on the Tiwi Islands. Every aspect of the prawn farming pilot, from planning to execution, was developed in close consultation with Tiwi Resources.

Ron Poantimilui is a Wurankuwu leader and Director of Tiwi Resources. He said there is a lot of support from the Tiwi community.

“I, along with my directors, are very happy with our collaboration with CSIRO over the past few years. This project holds the promise of benefiting my people through generating employment and creating opportunities, not only now but for the many generations to come,” Ron said.

This approach respects the Tiwi way of life, traditions and aspirations. It also uses modern scientific methods for sustainable aquaculture. The Tiwi Land Council and the Tiwi Island Regional Development Board support this proposal in principle. Discussions and negotiations are continuing.

International knowledge exchange

Prawn farming in Vietnam is world-renowned. So, a trip to Ca Mau in southern Vietnam offered an invaluable knowledge-exchange experience. Indigenous community leaders, researchers and stakeholders visited Vietnamese prawn farms. It was a two-way exchange, fostering international collaboration. Simultaneously, it strengthened the capacity of Northern Australian communities to further develop their sustainable prawn farming practices.

The research trip looked at many important aspects of prawn farming. They studied prawn health, farming techniques, environmental considerations (specifically mangrove and rice combinations) and prawn population size. It also included understanding water quality issues, licensing, managing disease, and survival rates. The hope is the pilot farm on Tiwi will harness the abundance of marine worms and other organisms in their mangroves to feed the prawns naturally!

The trip fostered goodwill and understanding. It has been pivotal in confirming the desire to proceed with this pilot.

Vietnam: Ca Mau in southern Vietnam offered an invaluable knowledge-exchange experience.

Demonstration farms show the way

The project is now in its third year.

The team is seeking funding to establish and run the pilot farm on Wurankuwu, Bathurst Island. It comprises six one-hectare ponds. The pilot aims to address the economic viability and community readiness on the island. If successful, the pilot farm will become a commercial enterprise.

Our researchers, Tansyn Noble and Tim Perrin, manage a successful prawn demonstration farm on Larrakia Country in Darwin.

Tim never imagined he’d end up working with prawns. He has now found his passion and loved setting up the demonstration farm in Darwin.

“We are in the early stages of evaluating the extensive farming model. We have already come away with a range of key learnings. This has put us in a great position moving forward. I’m excited to see the future impact of this project as we progress, and how it benefits Tiwi and other areas of Australia.”

Tansyn relocated back to Darwin before the project kicked-off. It was a full-circle moment for her. She grew up in Darwin but had moved away for her career.

“It’s special to come back and be part of pioneering this initiative and give back to the place I’m from. Working with the Tiwi people, I’ve learned that one of the main benefits of the project is it will allow people to go back to their community and live on Country, where they want to be.”

The pilot farm is located on Larrakia Country in Darwin.

A bright future for Tiwi Islands

Establishing prawn farms on the Tiwi Islands won’t just be about farming delicious tiger prawns. It’s about creating opportunities for the Tiwi community.

If it succeeds, the aquaculture pilot will have many benefits. It will create job opportunities for the Tiwi people. It will also help with sustainable resource management. This is because the Tiwi people have a deep understanding of their land and waters. The farms will also enhance the wellbeing of the community by providing access to scientific expertise and skills development.

Simon reflected on this journey and the importance of collaboration.

“We strongly believe in the power of collaboration. Together, we're forging a path towards mutual benefit. For the Tiwi community, this means jobs, economic prosperity, and a sustainable future. For CSIRO, it's continuing vital research and the opportunity to make a meaningful difference. We’re proud to be a part of this partnership.”

The story of prawn farming in Northern Australia is more than just science. It's a journey of partnership, cultural respect, and a path to a sustainable future for Australia.


Ron Poantimilui holds up a delicious tiger prawn in Vietnam.

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