Environmental Management

, Volume 49, Issue 6, pp 1130–1142 | Cite as

Building Co-Management as a Process: Problem Solving Through Partnerships in Aboriginal Country, Australia

  • Melanie ZurbaEmail author
  • Helen Ross
  • Arturo Izurieta
  • Philip Rist
  • Ellie Bock
  • Fikret Berkes


Collaborative problem solving has increasingly become important in the face of the complexities in the management of resources, including protected areas. The strategy undertaken by Girringun Aboriginal Corporation in north tropical Queensland, Australia, for developing co-management demonstrates the potential for a problem solving approach involving sequential initiatives, as an alternative to the more familiar negotiated agreements for co-management. Our longitudinal case study focuses on the development of indigenous ranger units as a strategic mechanism for the involvement of traditional owners in managing their country in collaboration with government and other interested parties. This was followed by Australia’s first traditional use of marine resources agreement, and development of a multi-jurisdictional, land to sea, indigenous protected area. In using a relationship building approach to develop regional scale co-management, Girringun has been strengthening its capabilities as collaborator and regional service provider, thus, bringing customary decision-making structures into play to ‘care for country’. From this evolving process we have identified the key components of a relationship building strategy, ‘the pillars of co-management’. This approach includes learning-by-doing, the building of respect and rapport, sorting out responsibilities, practical engagement, and capacity-building.


Co-management Partnerships Capacity-building Social learning Indigenous lands Protected areas Institutions Organizational development Australia 



We would like to thank the TOs, Girringun Aboriginal corporation staff, government staff, research colleagues and all others who participated in the studies leading to this paper. The contributing studies were funded by the Co-operative Research Centre for Reef Research and Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (Ross and colleagues’ research); The University of Queensland and WWF (Izurieta research), Rigby and Endeavor foundations (Zurba research). We thank Rod Neilson of Girringun Aboriginal corporation for his assistance with mapping.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie Zurba
    • 1
    Email author
  • Helen Ross
    • 2
  • Arturo Izurieta
    • 3
  • Philip Rist
    • 4
  • Ellie Bock
    • 5
  • Fikret Berkes
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of Manitoba WinnipegCanada
  2. 2.School of Integrative SystemsUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School for Environmental ResearchCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  4. 4.Girringun Aboriginal CorporationCardwellAustralia
  5. 5.Regional Advisory and Innovation Network (RAIN) Pty LtdMena CreekAustralia

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