Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are a form of protected area in Australia which are dedicated by Indigenous people over their traditional land and seas. Initially, IPAs were dedicated only over landowned exclusively by Indigenous Australian groups. However, recent years have seen a growing tendency for other tenures, including Sea Country (marine and coastal areas), to be incorporated into IPAs. This paper explores Sea Country IPAs as a grassroots participatory conservation phenomenon being led by Indigenous Australians and as a policy construct. Distinctions between how terrestrial and marine protected areas are handled within Australian policy spaces are explained, as are the innovative collaborative management approaches being developed to draw stakeholders together within the governance architecture of Sea Country IPAs. Three examples are presented to illustrate how Sea Country IPAs operate as Indigenous-led management regimes which draw on varied legal and other effective means, to conserve ecological and cultural resources. In exploring these characteristics of Sea Country IPAs, the paper encourages the marine science, management, and policy communities to engage with Sea Country IPAs and recognize their contributions to marine protected area management in Australia.
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Links to many of these can be found at https://eatlas.org.au/nwa/indigenous/guide.
“The goal of the [NRS] is to develop and effectively manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative national system of protected areas, as the primary means for securing long-term protection for Australia’s terrestrial biodiversity” (NRMMC 2010:10); “The primary goal of the NRSMPA is to establish and manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of MPAs to contribute to the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems, to maintain ecological processes and systems, and to protect Australia’s biological diversity at all levels” (ANZECC TFMPA 1998:5).
The marine components of IPAs were first noted in the 2014 marine CAPAD (DoE&E 2014). One (Dhimurru) of the then seven relevant IPAs (see Table 1) was noted in the spatial version and two (Dhimurru, putalina) in the textual version (seemingly as an oversight, DoE&E pers. com. 2/7/18). These oversights were corrected in the latest (2016) textual marine edition of CAPAD (DoE&E 2016b), which did not include any non-NRSMPA MPAs and therefore the marine components of any IPAs. The spatial version of the 2016 edition of CAPAD included six of the nine IPAs which at that time had marine components (Dhimurru, Mandingalbay Yidinji, Eastern Kuku Yalanji, Girringun, Thuwathu/Bujimulla, and Nyangumarta Warrarn) (DoE&E 2016a). It is unclear why the remaining three (putalina, Uunguu, and Bardi Jawi) were not included in the marine versions. These three were listed in the terrestrial version of CAPAD 2016, with the spatial version of the terrestrial CAPAD showing their extensions into marine areas.
In the mid-1990s, Australia introduced a regionalized approach to conservation, to ensure all major bioregions received adequate levels of protection. During this process, it emerged that Indigenous parties were the major landowners in some bioregions, and so inclusion of Aboriginal lands would be critical to the achievement of a comprehensive, adequate, and representative system of conservation areas (Bauman and Smyth 2007; Szabo and Smyth 2003).
A visual inspection of the IPA spatial dataset released by the Australian Government (DoE&E 2018) indicates that there may be as many as 20 IPAs which extend to the coast but which do not extend into marine areas. No further analysis of this data has been undertaken (e.g., for omissions, or against the maps provided in IPA management plans to confirm accuracy).
Over the same period as these Sea Country IPAs emerged, so too have a range of terrestrial-only multi-tenure IPAs. These IPAs include Indigenous-owned land, various State/Territory or Federal protected areas, pastoral properties, other privately owned lands, crown lands, mining leases, and township areas. Commercial and recreational activities undertaken within IPAs include tourism, pastoral activities, mining, carbon abatement, and feral buffalo harvesting.
Noting that the creation of an institutional space is an inherently intercultural process which sees the innovative remoulding of western institutional designs (as often required for compliance with taxation, corporate and other laws) to accommodate Indigenous decision-making protocols (Hunt et al. 2008).
Noting these priorities and strategies often also interact with other aspirations such as social and economic well-being—for example, through employment, enterprise development, the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, being able to access Country, improvements in mental and physical health, etc. (Austin et al. 2017c; Barber 2015; Bauman and Smyth 2007; Farr et al. 2016; Hill et al. 2013; Sithole et al. 2008; SVA 2016; URBIS 2012).
Native title is a legal regime created under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) which recognizes certain rights or interests which arise from Indigenous pre-colonial systems of law. Native title rights, where recognized, are then held by a prescribed body corporate.
Indigenous organizations established under various land rights legislation operating in particular State/Territory jurisdictions.
Resource centers are Indigenous-owned corporations which provide services to small, remote, family-based communities living on Country, away from major service centers (usually referred to as “outstations” or “homelands”).
Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) are voluntary but binding agreements between native title holders and other parties.
Traditional Use of Marine Areas (TUMRAs) “describe how Great Barrier Reef Traditional Owner groups work in partnership with the Australian and Queensland governments to manage traditional use activities on their sea country… [and] may describe… their role in compliance, [and] their role in monitoring the condition of plants and animals, and human activities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park” (GBRMPA 2019).
Over time, the government department responsible for this assessment has oscillated between departments such as the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
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The authors gratefully acknowledge the detailed input provided by the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation into various iterations of this paper.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Since the preparation of this paper in 2019, the 2018 CAPAD data has been released (DoE&E 2020). Although the Department of Environment had indicated to the authors that there may be a policy shift in how CAPAD is compiled (DoE&E, pers. com. 9/3/18), the marine components of IPAs have again been omitted from the textual version. The marine components of the Anindilyakwa and Yawuru IPAs (dedicated in 2016 and 2017) have been added to the spatial marine version of CAPAD.
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Gould, J., Smyth, D., Rassip, W. et al. Recognizing the contribution of Indigenous Protected Areas to marine protected area management in Australia. Maritime Studies 20, 5–26 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-020-00212-z
- Indigenous governance
- Marine management
- Indigenous Protected Areas
- Marine protected areas
- Sea Country