AUSTRALIA’S NATIONAL SCIENCE AGENCY
Mibu Fischer is a marine ethnoecologist who is linking Indigenous science and knowledge with marine ecology and management.
Mibu Fischer has worn a few different hats during her time at CSIRO. She’s been a cadet, a casual, an intern, a research technician, a research assistant, and now a marine ethnoecologist.
“A marine ethnoecologist is a term I made up for myself. It really was a term for me that described my role in marine ecology and looking at human interactions,” Mibu says.
Mibu is a Noonuccal, Ngugi, Goenpul woman from Quandamooka country, in Southeastern Queensland.
As Australia’s national science agency, we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first scientists. We’re working with Indigenous partners and collaborators to support the strengthening of Indigenous knowledge in our science. Indigenous perspectives were included in the State of the Environment report for the first time in 2021.
In Mibu’s work, she looks at Indigenous interactions with the marine environment and how Indigenous science and knowledge can be incorporated within marine ecology and management.
Mibu says Indigenous communities are being impacted by climate change in many ways.
“It’s quite well known that climate change impacts Indigenous communities mostly first before others. And that is because of our intricate understanding of the environment,” Mibu says.
She says sea level rise is impacting Indigenous communities through inundation of freshwater supplies, inundation of sacred graves, degradation of coastlines and reduction of terrestrial territory.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are also being impacted through loss of culturally significant species through extinction or location shifts, and changes to habitats because of invasive species.
“While these issues also impact non-Indigenous communities, the wellbeing impact on a culture that is intrinsically connected to Country is significant,” Mibu says.
Mibu says given the acceleration of climate change, and the current society we live in, adaptation of culture to suit these changing climatic conditions is not widely acknowledged or talked about.
“In previous climatic events, Indigenous groups were able to move and adapt culture to suit the changing conditions of the environment,” Mibu says.
“With many Indigenous people, we’re limited in our ability to move and adapt, or change traditional practices. Some of these restrictions are legal regulations and state boundaries. But it is also due to the perceptions that Indigenous Traditions are static.”
Mibu says Indigenous communities are adapting the way ceremony is held or how particular species are utilised to protect country.
“These changes do not influence or make the practice, laws, or beliefs any less Indigenous. That is an important thing to remember,” she says.
Mibu says it’s essential non-Indigenous solutions and science seek to include Indigenous perspectives.
“Indigenous worldview seeks to include humans as part of the ecosystem and locally specific knowledge of place can include early indicators of change,” Mibu says.
“But if decision-making processes at a larger scale also look to include Indigenous methodologies and theories, this would alter the values we currently place on the environment.
“It would mean there is a lesser emphasis on monetary values and a higher value on wellbeing of people and environment.”
Mibu says this cannot be done appropriately if Indigenous views, methods, and theories are not respected. She says Indigenous peoples are not adequately represented at present.
“This means in some instances a combination of western and Indigenous methods will work, sometimes western solutions need to be used and other times Indigenous methods will be the best,” Mibu says.
“There needs to be equity in various knowledge systems. Indigenous people need to be empowered to participate within science.”
Our Indigenous Graduate Program is a pathway into a career with Australia’s national science agency. The program matches Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university graduates to projects and teams relevant to their field of study and career aspirations.
Mibu encourages young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to pursue careers in science.
“Global solutions are best reached with a diverse range of worldviews. There is a need for Indigenous peoples to engage and pursue science careers to amplify our voices and knowledges, while understanding the western system,” Mibu says.
“We are able to bring the knowledge we have as Indigenous people to understand the issues our communities face and to bring the right people together to solve problems that impact us.”
Mibu shares her advice for young women wanting to work in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.
“Reach out to others in this space and develop your community of peers,” she says.
“Having a strong community, no matter how small, is extremely important in spaces like science. And say yes to opportunities.”
[Music plays and an image appears of a view looking down on the sea, and then images move through to show a kangaroo hopping, pelicans on the beach, and a close view of a turtle opening its eye]
Mibu Fischer: It’s quite well known that climate change impacts Indigenous communities mostly first before others and that’s because of our intricate understanding of the environment.
[Image changes to show fish swimming around a coral reef, and then the image changes to show waves rolling towards the beach]
There’s a lot of communities that are being inundated by sea water.
[Image changes to show waves crashing onto rocks, and then the image changes to show water blowing up through the rocks sending spray into the air]
There are Pacific nations not going to have a land which will all in turn impact on our ability to practice culture.
[Camera zooms in on a close view of the spray in the air, and text appears: How does climate change affect the wellbeing of Indigenous communities?]
Because we have such strong connections to our Country what does that mean for our overall wellbeing? They’re the type of questions that I have.
[Music plays as image changes to show Mibu Fischer talking to the camera, and text appears: Mibu Fischer, Marine Ethnoecologist]
My name is Mibu Fischer and I am a Marine Ethnoecologist.
[Images move through to show a CSIRO Marine Laboratories sign, a drawing of a prawn, a booklet, Mibu’s name badge, and Mibu talking to the camera]
A Marine Ethnoecologist is a term I made up for myself.
[Images move through to show Mibu drawing on a whiteboard, back and then facing views of Mibu’s audience, a side view of Mibu talking, and then Mibu talking to the camera]
It really was a term for me that described my role in marine ecology and looking at human interactions, specifically Indigenous interactions, with the marine environment, and how Indigenous science and knowledge can be incorporated within marine ecology and management.
[Image changes to show a map of Australia showing Brisbane pinpointed, and text appears: Yuggera, Brisbane, Qld]
I am a Nunukul Goenpul woman from Quandamooka Country which is just off the coast of Brisbane.
[Image changes to show an aerial view looking down on Moreton Bay, and then the image changes to show an aerial view of the whole area]
So, if you have heard of Moreton Bay or you have flown into Brisbane over the water and you’ve looked out the window and you’ve seen a bunch of sand islands, that’s my Country.
[Images move through to show the sun shining through tree leaves, a rear view of Mibu walking on the beach, and then a facing view of Mibu walking on the beach]
Going back there and smelling like the fresh salt air, and walking on the beach and realising that, you know, my ancestors have walked here, it’s just a nice, comforting feeling.
[Image changes to show Mibu talking the camera]
The cultural ties that I have to Country is really important and I think that’s a really important thing to realise, is that for a lot of Indigenous people being able to contribute to caring for Country is something we feel obliged to do.
[Image changes to show a facing and then rear view of Mibu walking towards the camera]
And being a scientist is one way that I am able to play my role in my community.
[Music plays as image changes to show a Qld Bioscience Precinct sign, and then the image changes to show Mibu talking to the camera]
So, in my current role I have varied responsibilities.
[Images move through to show Mibu walking along the verandah, a facing view of Mibu walking towards the camera, a CSIRO sign on the building window, and Mibu talking to the camera]
They can be from chairing national committees, developing Indigenous participation within Australian conferences. I also work with Indigenous communities around how they can interact with their rights and interests within the marine space.
[Image changes to show a view of the Investigator ship and then the image changes to show the camera panning along the deck of the Investigator ship]
I get to go into the field sometimes and that includes being on a boat for four weeks.
[Images move through to show the Investigator moving through the water, an aerial view of Moreton Bay, and then Mibu talking to the camera]
It includes, you know, walking on Country and having those really important and special conversations with Traditional Owners.
[Image changes to show a facing and then a rear view of Mibu walking through her workplace]
And so, I am really lucky that I have the breadth of activities that I have in my work because not all scientists get that.
[Image changes to show Mibu talking to the camera, and then images move through of Mibu working on her computer, and then talking to the camera again]
The aspects of my work that I get the most enjoyment out of is the moments when I am talking to a Traditional Owner, and I see it in their face that they’ve realised that their knowledge that’s been passed down to them over generations is actually really important.
[Images move through to show Mibu talking to her colleagues, and then the image changes to show Mibu talking to the camera]
Trying to justify the differences and the validity of both world views within the science context is a big challenge.
[Image changes to show Mibu talking with her colleagues, and then the image changes to show her female colleague speaking]
I think it is slowly changing as people realise that Indigenous world views have their own way of gathering and transferring knowledge and I only think it’s going to increase across science in general.
[Images move through to show Mibu and her colleagues seated around a coffee table in conversation, Mibu talking to the camera, Mibu and her colleagues, and then Mibu talking to the camera again]
I am really passionate about encouraging other young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in particular into STEM fields, through various programmes like the CSIRO Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy.
[Images move through to show a view of a calm sea, a close view of a stingray in the water, schools of fish swimming through the water, and a water droplet on a microscope slide under a microscope]
I was inspired to study science from a Grade 11 Biology camp where I went snorkelling and we collected sea water.
[Image changes to show a view of the water droplet as seen through the microscope showing plankton, and then the image changes to show Mibu talking to the camera]
And after that, we looked at it under a microscope and I saw the tiny little plankton that existed, and I hadn’t seen it before, and that really sparked my interest in all the unknown things about the oceans.
[Image changes to show a view looking up at palm trees, and then the image changes to show Mibu and a colleague walking along a path between the two rows of palm trees]
I was successful in gaining a cadetship with CSIRO.
[Images move through to show Mibu talking to the camera, a facing view of Mibu walking with a colleague, Mibu and her colleague in conversation, and then Mibu talking to the camera]
It was really beneficial to see what an actual scientist does on the daily, which I realised that my counterparts at university didn’t get to see that insight, and so their expectations of what a scientist was were different to mine, and within that cadetship I realised all the opportunities that CSIRO opened up.
[Images move through to show Mibu and her colleague entering the Queensland Bioscience Precinct, and a facing view of Mibu and her colleague walking inside the precinct]
And so, when I finished my degree I took on any role that was available.
[Image changes to show Mibu talking to the camera]
So, I have been a casual, I’ve been an intern, I’ve been a research technician and a research assistant until, I’m still here.
[Image changes to show a close view of Mibu talking to the camera]
I think it is a really great pathway into science.
[Images move through to show a view looking up at the sun shining through the palm trees, views of Mibu and her colleague in conversation, and then Mibu talking to the camera]
We have the ability to address questions for the Australian public in a way that other institutions can’t.
[Images move through of Mibu and her colleague seated at an outdoor table in conversation together]
The partners that we have, and the opportunities that CSIRO offers is really amazing and I really see the importance of having a younger voice within science.
[Images move through to show Mibu talking to the camera, Mibu and a colleague looking at a computer and talking together, and then Mibu talking to the camera]
And just because there is a lot of world-renowned scientists here, it doesn’t mean that your thoughts, your ideas aren’t going to contribute immensely to answering these global questions.
[Images move through to show a view of Moreton Bay, Mibu walking towards the water on the bay, a rear view of Mibu walking towards the water, and Mibu talking to the camera]
Science to me is about creativity and answering questions in unique ways, and so, being able to do that is possible, by including Indigenous science and knowledge because the knowledge that has been generated over the generations and passed down is extremely valuable.
[Images move through to show rear, profile and facing views of Mibu looking out to the sea, and then a view looking down on Mibu walking and then running along the coast]
It is really important to educate our researchers who come from a western education to the validity of Indigenous science and knowledge, and how it can only enhance the ability of us as scientists to answer questions that are really in the forefront for us globally. Solving Australia’s greatest challenges is impossible without people just like you.
[Music plays, and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]
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CSIRO acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land, sea and waters, of the area that we live and work on across Australia. We acknowledge their continuing connection to their culture and pay our respects to their Elders past and present. View our vision towards reconciliation.
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