The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, along with its partners, the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and INLOC, is inviting nominations for the Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owners Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) Control Program.

Traditional Owners of the Great Barrier Reef wish to see tangible career pathways for specialised, culturally appropriate training and employment included in the design and delivery of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Control program.


To enable implementation of this action, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation supported its Traditional Owner Advisory Group to work with Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and INLOC over a 12-month period to co-design the Indigenous Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Control and Leadership Program.

The Program will deliver training to Traditional Owners within the Great Barrier Reef catchment in the three key themes of Conservation and Ecosystem Management, marine operations, and leadership, within a COTS management context.

This program is structured to give trainees a balance between classroom and hands-on learning and ensures that participants can maintain linkages in their home communities. To achieve this, the program incorporates block learning periods based from the INLOC Training Centre located in Cairns as well as community-based projects on-country.

It is anticipated that all trainees will undertake approximately 21 weeks away from home, split into periods of several weeks at a time, and an additional 9 weeks of community placements over an 18-month period. The outline Program Schedule can be found below.

Important design elements for this program include:
• Engaging 20 Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander trainees to complete the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) manual control and leadership program through an open and transparent Expression of Interest process
• Ensuring that training is provided in a professional and culturally suitable manner, by suitably qualified personnel. This includes:

– our Registered Training Organisation INLOC confidently demonstrating both technical and cultural competency to deliver the training;
– employment of a full-time Indigenous Training Officer to assist develop an appropriate curriculum and culturally sensitive training and support to participants
– identifying ‘best fit’ learning and career pathways; and – ensuring that Reef Traditional Owners who undertake training receive accredited qualifications

• Involving the community in the success of this program by arranging for Traditional Owner Elders and other community members (where appropriate) to be involved in observing or supporting training opportunities that take place on Country. This will ensure community members are informed, involved and supportive of the program.
• Engagement with Traditional Owners whose Sea Country is accessed for training and/or COTS control. This includes letting Traditional Owner groups know prior to visiting their Sea Country that an activity will take place on their Country, so that they are informed about the visit and intention. We will also be keeping community up to date with progress as we go through good communication.
• Sharing COTS control data (that is available to RRRC) in a readable summarised form relevant to the Traditional Owner groups where work is being done so that Traditional Owners can better understand what is happening on their Country.
• Supporting those important industry-placement employers to build and strengthen their cultural awareness so that trainees are culturally safe in the workplace.



There are 8-12 positions for women and 8-12 positions for men in the Program.

When in Cairns or when deployed onboard INLOC/RRRC COTS control vessels, the female and male trainees will work together. During the 21 weeks away from home (excluding those attending the Advanced Training phase), trainees will be paid at the applicable rate set out in the Miscellaneous Workers Award and have meals and accommodation provided.

All participants will be provided with pastoral care and support throughout the Program.



The Program will include training and certification in: 

  • COTS Control 
  • First Aid 
  • Scuba diving 
  • Marine vessel operation 
  • Conservation and Ecosystem Management
  • Leadership

This is a rewarding and challenging program where trainees will be learning new and complex skill sets, with the full support of expert instructors and indigenous mentors and pastoral care. Throughout the Program, trainees will be evaluated on their aptitude in the classroom and fieldwork (including deployments onboard COTS vessels). This evaluation will form the basis for selection towards advanced training and industry placements.

Traditional Owner oversight will continue throughout the life of the 2-year program through the partnership between RRRC, INLOC and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s COTS Traditional Owner Technical Working Group and Advisory Group. We celebrate this Program as being a unique opportunity and partnership to address key actions that Traditional Owners hold important and is the first co-designed program of its kind. This measure is targeted to improve inclusion and participation of Traditional Owners in the management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The best performing trainees or those that show particular promise both in and on the water may be invited to attend the Advanced phase of training, which will be conducted in a separate 5-week block period. This includes PADI Dive Master and Coxswain Grade 1 qualifications, which enables the successful participants to more competitively seek employment opportunities in marine industries and onboard COTS vessels.