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You might have noticed that sometimes First Nations peoples and cultures are talked about like they are in the past. Have you ever heard things like, “these fish were an important food source for First Nations peoples”? The truth is that those fish are still an important food source for First Nations peoples, because we are still here and still living our cultures every day.

When we talk about listening to Country, it is just as important to remember that we are also talking about today.

When we listen to Country today, though, we quickly notice that many things are going wrong.

First Nations saltwater peoples listen carefully to the ocean and the lessons Country teaches us about sea foods, materials, ecosystems and relationships. Trying to live those lessons is much harder these days, though, because colonisation has created new laws, powers and industries that don’t always listen with us. The oceans are having a hard time keeping up with how many fish are taken, all the pollution entering the water, and the rising sea temperatures.

Ocean Currents are speaking very loudly about this through their patterns at the moment. One example of listening to these changing patterns is in our East Australian Current – or EAC.

The EAC is an important Ocean Current that travels along the East Coast. It carries warm tropical waters from the north down to mix with the cold Antarctic waters of the south. The mixing of warm and cool waters creates important food and migrations patterns throughout the year that many different animals rely on. But these patterns are changing.

Climate change is causing the warm northern waters to become too hot so that too much warm water mixes with the cold water. When this happens, the EAC moves faster – too fast for many ocean plants and animals to keep up with. Migrating animals are arriving too early or too late to meet up with important food sources, habitats are being destroyed, and many plants and animals are unable to survive in the hot, fast waters.

The Sydney Octopus has always lived around the NSW coast. This is where they belong. But in recent times, the octopuses are being swept away in the currents and have started showing up in Tasmania! This is bad news, because Tasmania is not where this octopus belongs. Even though it wasn’t their choice to go to Tasmania, once the octopuses arrive they do what they can to survive and this can impact negatively on the animals who already live there.

Sydney Common Octopus
Sydney Common Octopus Image: Steve Parish
© Steve Parish

Just like the octopuses being moved to places where they don’t belong, the Ocean Currents are also telling us how far plastics and other pollutants travel through their long, eel-like ribbons and tunnels of fast-moving water.

Human rubbish doesn’t stay in one place once it’s in the ocean, it moves long distances and harms many places as it goes. Our Oceans are asking us to care about the animals who are eating, breathing and becoming sick from these pollutants before it’s too late.

Climate change and ocean pollution are big problems that are happening now, so we need to listen to the changing patterns that Country is showing us today.

Can you think of other changing patterns that Country is showing us? What are some things we can do to listen and help?

Editorial note: Some ecosystem names have been capitalised to give agency to Country by First Nations writers. Find out more about why we capitalise English language in reading Who is Country.

About the author

Sara Kianga Judge is a neurodiverse Walbunja-Yuin woman who grew up on Burramattagal Country. She is an environmental scientist, geographer and artist passionate about accessible science communication and helping people to grow meaningful relationships with Country.