Indigenous protected areas in Sea Country: Indigenous-driven collaborative marine protected areas in Australia

Phil Rist, Whitney Rassip, Djalinda Yunupingu, Jonathan Wearne, Jackie Gould, Melanie Dulfer-Hyams, Ellie Bock, Dermot Smyth

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    1. In many parts of the world, policymakers, legislators, marine managers, and indigenous peoples have attempted to reconcile marine protected area (MPA) governance and management with indigenous peoples' ancient and ongoing traditional ownership of coastal and marine environments. This paper describes a novel approach in Australia to addressing this challenge through indigenous‐led planning and collaborative governance of holistic coastal land and sea indigenous protected areas (IPAs) based on the indigenous concept of “Country”—traditional land and sea estates and their associated cultural, environmental, and other values.
    2. To provide context to this approach, the paper explains the concept of “Sea Country” and provides an overview of the relationship between indigenous peoples and Australia's coastal and marine environments, the legal and policy recognition of Indigenous Sea Country rights and interests, and the engagement of indigenous people in the governance and management of government‐led, legislated MPAs in Australia.
    3. The paper then describes the evolution of IPAs from being specifically based on indigenous land tenure to being based more generally on Indigenous Country, across multiple tenures, including marine areas. In recent years, IPAs based on
    Country have enabled indigenous people to lead planning and governance of land and sea areas over which they have limited legal rights, including over existing national parks and marine parks. Using this approach, some IPAs complement existing protected area governance and management arrangements, whereas elsewhere Country‐based IPAs are adding significantly to Australia's MPA estate. The Dhimurru IPA in the Northern Territory and Girringun Region IPAs in Queensland are presented as examples of this Country‐based approach.
    4. This indigenous‐driven, collaborative, nonlegislative approach to dedicating, governing and managing coastal areas and MPAs may serve as a model in other nation states for indigenous people wishing to use a protected area governance framework to support the contemporary management of their traditional marine and coastal estates.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)138-151
    Number of pages14
    JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
    Issue numberS2
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2019


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