A short historical investigation into cross-cultural Australian ideas about the marine animal group Teredinidae, their socioecological consequences and some options

Mary Gardner


How are contemporary multicultural coastal Australians, Aboriginals and settlers alike, to develop wiser ideas and practices towards marine animals as well as each other?  To illustrate the importance and complexity of this question, I offer a short historical investigation of some contrasting ideas and practices held by Australian Aboriginal and settler cultures about marine animals of the group Teredinidae. I present two “screenshots”: one from the period 1798-1826 and another from 1970-2012. The first period examines a negative but influential interpretation by Thomas Malthus of a cross cultural encounter featuring Australian Aboriginal consumption of local Teredinidae known as “cobra”. While this cultural tone remains largely unchanged in the second period, the biological understanding of the marine animals has developed greatly. So has awareness of the socioecology of Teredinidae: their estuarine habitats and cultural significance. Their potential role as subjects of community based monitoring is undeveloped but could serve overlapping concerns of environmental justice as well as the restoration and “future proofing” of habitats. Such a new composite of ideas and practices will rely on better integration of biology with community based social innovations. A symbolic beginning would be a change in Australian English colloquialisms for Teredinidae, from the erroneous “shipworm” or “mangrove worm” to the more accurate “burrowing clam”.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co201311266-279


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