By Bridget Brennan
Illegal poachers of dugongs and turtles in far north Queensland are about to face tougher penalties, as the Federal Government announces new measures to protect threatened species.
New laws passed in the Senate have increased the hunting fines to up to $1 million in Commonwealth marine areas.
Environment Minister is Greg Hunt said it was important legislation.
"I am determined to wipe out any residual practice of poaching of dugongs and turtles," he said.
"I think what we find is that these are majestic creatures."
Traditional owners welcomed the move. Gavin Singleton, a project officer at the Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation in the Cairns region, said poaching was an insidious practice in far north Queensland.
"We do have a lot of people who are taking those kinds of marine resources," he said.
Mr Singleton said he hoped the tougher fines would deter poachers while native title holders should still be able to hunt dugongs.
Under the Native Title Act of 1993, Indigenous people with native title rights can hunt marine turtles and dugong for personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs.
"For traditional owners, within the traditional sea country area, that's where there's a bit of uncertainty," he said.
Dugongs are among many Australian species under serious threat.
A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said 21 per cent of Australian mammals were threatened.
Co-author Dr John Woinarski, a conservation professor at Charles Darwin University, warned the situation for threatened mammals was "catastrophic".
The Federal Government has announced it would give an additional $743,000 to boost the work of 11 conservation projects around the country.
Mr Hunt said the Government was already investing $50 million towards threatened species research and protection.
Some of the conservationists that would benefit from a boost in funding were working to save animals like the eastern barred bandicoot in Victoria and the western quoll in South Australia.
Mr Hunt said another of the projects had been crucial to the survival of the eastern bettong in the ACT.
"It's being reintroduced into the mainland, there are real things happening that are making a big difference," Mr Hunt said.
Dr Woinarski said the new investment was a good step but there were many more animals facing what he deemed an "extinction calamity".
"The extent of the problem is huge and the extent of resources committed to it is nowhere near sufficient at this stage," he said.
"Many of those species have declined drastically over the last decade or so and they do need our help badly."