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Indigenous Protected Areas in Australia: Incorporating Indigenous Owned Land into Australia's National System of Protected Areas1


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Introduction Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are a relatively new form of protected area that has been developed collaboratively by Indigenous landholders and federal, state, and territory conservation agencies in Australia. IPAs are owned and managed by Indigenous peoples, in accordance with IUCN categories, and form part of Australia's national system of protected areas. This article summarises the background to the establishment of IPAs, reviews their development over the last seven years and highlights the legal and policy innovations on which they are based.
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World Parks Congress: Sustainable Finance Stream 1
World Parks Congress: Sustainable Finance Stream
September 2003 • Durban, South Africa
Applications Session
Learning from concrete successes of sustainably financing protected areas
Workshop 10
Sustaining Equitable Funding for the Involvement of Indigenous and Local Communities
in Protected Area Management
Indigenous protected areas in Australia: Incorporating
Indigenous owned land into Australia’s national system of
protected areas
Steve Szabo and Dermot Smyth
James Cook University, Australia
Note: This paper also appears as a chapter in the following IUCN publication that was launched
at the World Parks Congress: Jaireth, H and Smyth, D (eds) 2003. Innovative
Governance – Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and Protected Areas. Ane
Books, New Delhi.
Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are a relatively new form of protected area that has been developed
collaboratively by Indigenous landholders and federal, state, and territory conservation agencies in
Australia. IPAs are owned and managed by Indigenous peoples, in accordance with IUCN categories,
and form part of Australia’s national system of protected areas. This article summarises the background
to the establishment of IPAs, reviews their development over the last seven years and highlights the legal
and policy innovations on which they are based.
For historical, political and economic reasons, the protected area estate in Australia developed in a very
ad hoc way, and there has been a bias for particular kinds of landscapes at the expense of others. There
are plenty of rocky hilltops that have become national parks, while virtually no fertile river flats and very
few native grasslands have been protected.
Australia is governed as a federation of six states and two territories (formerly separate British colonies),
and the great majority of national parks in Australia are in fact state or territory parks. In 1992, the Federal
Government announced its intention to establish a ‘Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative
System of Protected Areas for Australia’. The objective was to address the lack of representation of
certain kinds of landscapes and habitats and to ensure that the full suite of the nation’s biodiversity had
refuges in protected areas. Along with the announcement of this objective was the commitment to provide
a significant pool of funding (under the National Reserve System program) to purchase lands (in
partnership with state and territory conservation agencies) assessed as being important additions to the
National Reserve System.
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Bio-regions as a basis for National Reserve System
Before lands purchasing land for protected areas, it was necessary to develop an agreed strategic
framework that would avoid repetition of the ad hoc, politically-driven or opportunistic acquisitions of the
past. In 1994, after much negotiation, the Federal Government’s conservation agency, in cooperation with
the state and territory nature conservation agencies, released the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation
of Australia (IBRA). The development of a database of distinct bioregions in Australia enabled a national
snapshot to be taken of the comprehensiveness of the existing reserve system and to use the same data
to help prioritise future acquisitions.
An unexpected outcome of the IBRA was an awareness that Indigenous peoples owned large areas of
land, including entire bioregions, which were essential for the achievement of a comprehensive, adequate
and representative National Reserve System. Furthermore, additional land was being returned to
Indigenous ownership through land claims, which were increasing during the 1990s as a result of
recognition of pre-existing Aboriginal ‘native title’ by the High Court of Australia in 1992.
Incorporating Indigenous land into the national reserve
The inclusion of bio-regionally significant Aboriginal-owned land within the National Reserve System
(NRS) required an innovative solution. The land was not for sale, and it was no longer politically or legally
possible to simply acquire Aboriginal land for protected area purposes. This stimulated the search for an
alternative process which would enable Indigenous lands to come into the reserve system without loss of
ownership and control by the Indigenous peoples.
The idea of Indigenous owned and managed protected areas as a component of the NRS emerged partly
out of necessity. However, those involved in the early development of this concept also felt that there was
a genuine convergence of interests between Indigenous land management aspirations and the purpose
of protected areas. Aboriginal Traditional Owners use terms like ‘caring for country’ or ‘healthy country’, to
indicate their desire to maintain the well-being of their inherited landscapes – a concept that meshed well
with national and international visions for protected areas.
The concept of what was to become known as ‘Indigenous Protected Areas’ was explored further through
several research and consultative processes, which are described in detail in Smyth (1995), Sutherland
and Smyth (1995), and Thackway et al. (1996). These processes involved:
discussions with key Indigenous organisations;
discussions with state conservation agencies;
review of state and federal legislation applicable to conservation initiatives on private land;
consideration of how IUCN protected area guidelines could apply to IPAs; and
two national workshops involving Indigenous landholders, Indigenous organisations, federal,
state and territory conservation agencies and non-government conservation organisations.
Discussions with key Indigenous landholders and organisations indicated that they were cautiously
interested in exploring the concept of IPA further. State and territory conservation agencies were more
skeptical. They were concerned that establishment of additional protected areas within their jurisdictions
would place extra demands on their scarce protected area management funds. They were also
concerned about the potential loss of their monopoly to declare protected areas on state and territory
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lands. Nevertheless, Indigenous organisations and conservation agencies sent representatives to attend
two national workshops and take part in the discussions that brought the concept of IPAs into reality.
Meanwhile, analysis of the various federal, state, and territory laws governing conservation management
and the capacity of government agencies to enter into management agreements with private landholders,
showed that there were no legal barriers to implementing the IPA concept across Australia (Sutherland
and Smyth 1995).
Another key process was an examination of the IUCN Guidelines for Protected Area Categories
(CNPPA/WCMC 1994) to determine whether the IPA concept was consistent with agreed international
principles for protected areas, as required by the NRS. The examination revealed that the IUCN
Guidelines did indeed contain the flexibility of vision to accommodate all the important features of IPAs.
IUCN’s definition of a protected area is:
An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological
diversity and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.
The references to 'cultural resources' and 'management through effective, non-legal means' provided the
basis for establishing a management framework that recognises the importance of Indigenous cultural
values and which validates Indigenous governance.
Other aspects of the IUCN Guidelines that supported the establishment of IPAs include:
Management of protected areas may rest with ‘central, regional or local government, non-
government organisations, the private sector or the local community’.
The primary objective of a protected area is determined by ‘national legislation (or similar
effective means, such as customary agreements or the declared objectives of a non-
government organisation’.
Management objectives and constraints for most of the IUCN protected area categories
provide for the sustainable use of natural resources by Indigenous peoples.
The potential role of Indigenous communities as managers is specified in the description of
several protected area categories. However, the descriptions for all categories, except
Category 1 (Strict Nature Reserves and Wilderness Areas), envisage the potential for
management by ‘a local organisation or community’, which could be an Indigenous
Recognition of Indigenous peoples’ capacity to establish their own protected areas is
consistent with recent Australian and international developments towards political, social and
economic self-determination by Indigenous peoples.
In summary, it is clear that if an Indigenous community or landowning group have an explicit objective of
long-term conservation, with customary or other agreements in place, they can establish and manage a
protected area outside the existing legislative protected area framework and still be consistent with the
IUCN Guidelines (Thackway et al 1996).
At the first national workshop, Indigenous landowners agreed to consider including their land in the
national protected area system, provided it enhances their capacity to manage their lands and does not
result in any loss of control over their lands. Discussions at the workshop also resulted in the IPA program
being expanded to include funding to support the negotiation of co-management arrangements for
existing government managed protected areas.
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The second national workshop, held in 1997, developed the following definition of IPAs that recognised
the indivisible link between cultural and biodiversity values in protected area management:
An Indigenous Protected Area is governed by the continuing responsibilities of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples to care for and protect lands and waters for present and future
IPAs may include areas of land and waters over which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are
custodians, and which shall be managed for cultural biodiversity and conservation, permitting
customary sustainable resource use and sharing of benefit.
Funding arrangements
The Federal Government Department of Environment and Heritage (Environment Australia) funds the IPA
program for each of the following stages:
Stage 1: Consideration of an IPA declaration
Indigenous landowners consider whether establishing an Indigenous Protected Area on their land is
viable and meets their requirements. This first stage may include seeking advice on the legal, cultural
heritage or conservation aspects of the proposed IPA to inform the decision-making by the landowners.
Many landowners seek funds to travel to existing IPAs to discuss the concept and program with other
Indigenous people. Community meetings are held and information is provided on a range of issues, such
as IUCN categories, the concept of bioregions and the National Reserve System.
Stage 2: Development of a Management Plan for the property
This stage includes more detailed community consultation about management prescriptions for particular
areas, species, values or management issues. Expertise from government conservation agencies,
neighbours and others is engaged during this process. The final product is a Management Plan endorsed
by the Traditional Owners, which reflects their long-term aspirations for their country and contains
management actions for the next 5-7 years. Each plan also identifies the IUCN category which best
reflects the management objectives of the area.
Stage 3: Declaration of an IPA
Declaration takes the form of a formal and public announcement of the intention to manage land as an
Indigenous Protected Area according the Management Plan and specified IUCN category. The
landowners write to the Federal Minister for Environment and Heritage to register the details of their
property on the Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database (CAPAD) along with all other
properties that constitute the National Reserve System.
The declarations generally culminate in a formal public launch, which includes the signing of a declaration
statement with the federal, state and territory government representatives. The on-site launches have
become big community events with politicians and other special guests visiting the area.
Stage 4: Implementation of the Management Plan
IPA management is implemented through on-ground works as specified in the Management Plan, such
as putting into place weed and feral animal controls, cultural and natural heritage conservation activities
or the establishment of infrastructure to manage visitor access. The IPA managers continue to access
funding for these purposes through the IPA program on an annual basis. Funding is based on budgets
developed to implement actions identified in the Management Plans. At this implementation stage access
to IPA program funding is no longer a competitive process, although the level of funding is negotiated
each year.
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Stage 5: Monitoring
The landowners, in consultation with other agencies, monitor the implementation of activities under the
Management Plan and the effectiveness of the on-ground works. Monitoring mechanisms should be
identified in the Management Plan and should focus on the condition and trends of the natural and
cultural resources in the IPA.
Throughout these stages, the following key principles and understandings have been identified to guide
the administration of the IPA program:
people tend to behave responsibly when they have responsibility;
good decisions will generally be made when the decision makers have good information presented in
an appropriate way;
don’t push too hard or too fast for a result - allowing time and space for decisions results in better and
more durable outcomes;
all decisions regarding country remain with the Indigenous owners/managers;
Indigenous groups are free to run the consultative process their own way and to hire their own
experts to help;
funding must allow for on-ground work from the beginning, rather than just planning and talking in the
everyone needs to know they can withdraw from the process at any time; and
regular monitoring and review by the land managers is necessary every two years to maintain good
management outcomes.
Funding for IPAs has largely been sourced through annual grants from a national IPA program. The
Indigenous communities involved in the program provide a significant contribution in human resources
and government-funded employment programs cover a major portion of the labour costs.
To obtain IPA funding, Indigenous landowners apply to Environment Australia and identify their own cash
and in-kind contributions. Applications are assessed by officials, comments are sought from other
stakeholders and the IPA Advisory Group, which makes funding recommendations to the Federal
Environment Minister.
A contract is prepared specifying the work to be undertaken, a schedule of payments and reporting
requirements. The funding contracts are business-like agreements whereby the Federal Government is
purchasing specified environmental services from Indigenous landholders. These funding agreements
have been effective in maintaining a focus on outcomes in IPAs to date. The unresolved issue of funding
continuity and annual funding cycles remains the major impediment to consolidating IPAs individually and
as a permanent feature of the protected areas landscape in Australia.
Assessment of the contribution of IPAs to the National Reserve
Since August 1998, when the first IPA was declared by the Nepabunna Community in South Australia, a
further 16 IPAs have been declared and added to the National Reserve System. A further 10 co-
management projects on government-owned protected areas have been funded, with only one reaching
the stage where there is a formal joint management structure in place.
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The 17 IPAs declared cover 13.8 million ha of lands which would otherwise not have been available to
enhance the conservation estate. After only six years of the IPA Program almost 17% of the terrestrial
protected area estate in Australia is in IPAs. With the new IPA development projects currently in the
consultation or planning stages, further large additions to the NRS are likely in the near future.
There are declared IPAs in each state and territory, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory
(where there is Aboriginal involvement in Namadgi National Park, which comprises 70% of the territory).
The distribution of current and pending IPAs is shown in Figure 1. For further details of each of these
IPAs and other aspects of the IPA program refer to Environment Australia (2003).
IPAs have achieved the highest level of acceptance in South Australia and, after initial reluctance, there is
now good progress in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Success factors relate strongly to
local political issues, including the nature of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the state
and territory governments. The amount and size of Indigenous land holdings has not been a major factor,
as is evident by the number of IPAs declared in Tasmania (with relatively small areas of Indigenous
owned land) and the reluctance of Indigenous landowners in Queensland (where there are large areas of
Indigenous owned land) to take up the IPA option.
Figure 1: Location of declared IPAs, IPAs under consideration, government-managed protected areas
and Indigenous owned land. The feint lines indicate boundaries of IBRA bioregions.
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Assessment of benefits to Indigenous land owners
A third national workshop held in May 2003 provided the first opportunity for Indigenous managers from
all declared IPAs, and representatives of communities at various stages of establishing IPAs on their
lands, to share their experiences of the realities of implementing the IPA concept. While concern about
security of long-term funding was a common theme, workshop participants were enthusiastic in their
support for IPAs, both as a mechanism for improved environmental management and for the associated
cultural, education, health, employment and other social benefits. In their workshop presentations, IPA
managers made it clear that the environmental and cultural benefits are inseparable; they included:
getting Traditional Owners back on country, often after long absences;
involving school children in IPA field trips, transferring knowledge between generations and
strengthening languages;
re-establishing traditional burning practices, maintaining waterholes and reducing feral animal
providing training and employment in managing country;
promoting renewed interest about caring for the country.
The general mood of the workshop was one of pride in what has been achieved in a short time and with a
small government investment. Strong interest was expressed in exploring ways to strengthen the legal
protection of IPAs that did not compromise Indigenous peoples’ authority over their land and sea country.
The workshop also strongly reconfirmed the importance of maintaining support for increased involvement
of Indigenous people in government managed protected areas as part of the ongoing government
commitment to IPAs.
Conservation Significance of IPAs
There is great variation in the conservation values and size of the IPAs established so far. Like the
existing statutory system of protected areas, some areas are more significant than others, at least in their
biodiversity value. However, all the IPAs are of great cultural value to those Indigenous peoples who own
and manage them. In negotiating the pilot IPA projects for funding, it was necessary to ensure that this
cultural perspective was fully incorporated, rather than merely seeking out those Indigenous lands that
are of interest to Environment Australia from a biodiversity conservation perspective. Environment
Australia’s preparedness to accommodate Indigenous perspectives on the significance of landscapes has
been critical in gaining the confidence of Indigenous groups to declare IPAs on the more bioregionally
significant properties as the program has matured.
Much of the Indigenous owned land in Australia has not been subject to high impact uses such as land
clearance, cropping and heavy grazing. While this was largely due to climatic factors and distance from
major centres, which made these lands unattractive to non-Indigenous settlers, the result is that some of
the most intact landscapes and ecosystems are on country that has been reserved for Indigenous use or
subsequently reclaimed by the Indigenous traditional owners. Nevertheless, environmental management
problems, such as feral animals and invasive weeds, do occur in these remote regions. The declaration of
IPAs provides a mechanism to address such issues strategically.
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Figure 2: Continuation of traditional burning
practices is essential for the maintenance of
biodiversity and cultural values in Walalkara and
Watarru Indigenous Protected Areas in South
Comparison of IPAs with Co-
managed Protected Areas
Over the past 20 years a spectrum of co-
management arrangements has been developed by
federal, territory and state governments which seek
to involve Indigenous people in some government-
managed protected areas in Australia. Kakadu, Uluru
Kata-Tjuta and Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National
Parks in the Northern Territory are the best known of
these, and there are others in South Australia, New South Wales and Jervis Bay Territory (a small
federal-controlled enclave on the south coast of New South Wales). Most co-managed national parks are
owned by Indigenous groups, who have had their land returned to them on the condition that they lease it
back to government conservation agencies to manage as protected areas. The Indigenous landowners
are represented on the park boards of management, and they benefit economically through ranger
employment, annual rent payments and a percentage of revenue raised in the park (through entrance
fees, commercial tourism etc.). These joint management arrangements are discussed further in Smyth
In addition to these formal joint management arrangements, most Australian states and territories have
provision for some Indigenous involvement throughout their protected area system. This might involve, for
example, a commitment to consultation with Indigenous people, an Indigenous representative on an
advisory committee, some employment or responsibility for Indigenous heritage protection. Indigenous
people have consistently expressed the view that such arrangements do not adequately recognise their
status as traditional landowners and they are seeking more meaningful involvement, especially at the
decision and policy-making level. One feature that is common to all co-management arrangements is the
lack of opportunity for Indigenous groups to decide whether or not they wanted their traditional lands to
become protected areas.
The 13.8 million ha of IPAs, including several projects in the developmental stage, are currently costing
the Federal Government about A$2 million (US$1.3 million) per annum. Average annual funding from
Environment Australia to each IPA project is in the order of A$110,000 (US$71,500). The world heritage
Kakadu National Park, one of Australia’s largest and best resourced national parks, has an annual
operating budget of A$12 million (US$7.8 million) of which around 25% is raised through user fees. Full
joint management is proving to be relatively costly and requires considerable time and resources for
effective consultative processes.. However, Kakadu National Park is a particularly high profile and well-
visited park that contributes considerably to the economy of the Northern Territory.
IPAs are a much more streamlined approach where Indigenous peoples have control and full
responsibility over resources and how work gets done. Management effectiveness is measured in terms
of the condition of the country over time rather than by the size of the budget or the amount of work done.
IPA funding has been successful in leveraging considerable additional resources to support Indigenous
management. It has provided access to traditional land management expertise and a large pool of labour,
supported through a work-for-the-dole employment scheme known as the Community Development
Employment Program. Even when Indigenous people are not directly employed in IPA management, their
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presence on country provides a very effective and economical monitoring service. A comparison of the
main features of IPAs with co-managed protected areas in Australia is given in Table 1.
Protected Area Feature Indigenous Protected
Co-managed Protected
Land ownership
Indigenous ownership Indigenous or government
Establishment of protected
areas status
Voluntary Compulsory
Land management
Indigenous landowner group
or organisation
Government conservation
Indigenous role in
Indigenous control at all
Membership on Board of
Management, or advisory
Management Plan
Mandatory Mandatory for some parks;
discretionary in others
Comparative management
Relatively low Relatively high
Security of protected area
Indefinite, subject to wishes
of Indigenous landowners
Indefinite, subject to
government legislation
Table 1: Comparative features of Indigenous Protected Areas and co-managed national parks in
IPAs and the conceptual development of protected areas in Australia
Over a relatively short period, IPAs have made a substantial contribution to the protected area estate on
the basis of land area alone. Perhaps more importantly, they have provided a way to deal with the
tensions between conservation interests and the aspirations of Indigenous peoples. IPAs are
demonstrating that these often competing interests are not mutually exclusive.
Several jurisdictions in Australia are seeking amendments to their legislation to better accommodate
Indigenous lands, uses and aspirations in day-to-day protected area management. In the Northern
Territory and Western Australia, legislative amendments are proposed to recognise IPAs in law and allow
government agencies to develop programs that will support the establishment and management of IPAs.
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Figure 3: Environmental work at Mt. Chappell Island and Badger Island Indigenous Protected Areas in
Tasmania has focused on weed and feral animal control, revegetation and the development of
jetty/landing facilities and shelters to facilitate access for management.
Challenges for the future
The most significant challenge facing the IPA initiative is securing long-term commitment of governments
to funding the concept. To date funding has been on an annual basis.
Currently there is a commitment from the Federal Government to fund the program through to 2005-6,
allocated in two annual funding cycles to individual IPAs on the advice of the IPA Advisory Group
(formerly the IPA Taskforce). State and territory agencies are increasingly contributing resources and
support to IPAs, but this has been sporadic and short-term. To date, therefore, it is only the IPA owners
and managers who have been able to make the type of long-term commitments that effective protected
area management requires.
Government decision makers must be convinced that IPAs function properly, are cost-effective, are
essential to the long-term conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and that supporting IPAs is a core
responsibility of government conservation agencies. There is provision for this in the Federal
Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 in the form of
Conservation Agreements. By bringing IPAs under the auspices of the EPBC Act, the Government
commits itself to the other party to the agreement and accepts some responsibility for long-term support.
There are similar provisions under state and territory legislation, where private lands can have special
conservation status conferred on them, but to date only one IPA has a formal agreement with a state or
territory government.
In some cases there may be other options to securing a greater commitment. For instance, two of the
existing IPA projects have extensive and internationally significant wetlands over which the Indigenous
landowners are considering protecting through listing as a Ramsar site. Ramsar wetlands are a Federal
Government responsibility under the EPBC Act, which brings with it scope for some on-going funding
commitment for management. World Heritage values and natural and cultural values of national
significance will occur on some IPAs, providing opportunities for other alternative sources of long-term
government funding.
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Capacity building and professional development of IPA owners and managers is another major challenge.
This is largely in the scientific/technical areas and addressing contemporary resource management
issues, such as feral animals, erosion, visitor management and legal issues. A positive outcome of
reinstating and resourcing Indigenous management in the IPAs has been the renewed interest in
‘traditional ecological knowledge’ among young people, who are most likely to be involved in
management activities.
Management structures are variable across the IPAs. The most effective arrangements are where there is
a dedicated natural or cultural resource management organisation, separate from other community
structures, which provides land and heritage management services to the traditional owners. Associated
with this is the need for appropriate training and support, which will lead to a reduced dependence on
outside expertise and advice.
Law enforcement is seen by many Indigenous groups as an important extension of on-ground
management they routinely undertake. They see this as part of increasing their level of professionalism
and enhancing their capacity to actually protect the values of the IPA and achieve greater parity with
statutory protected areas. Some training has occurred in this area but no formal delegation of law
enforcement powers to IPA managers has yet occurred. An analysis of federal, state, and territory
legislation indicates that there are adequate opportunities for devolving law enforcement to appropriately
trained individuals outside of government agencies.
The innovations associated with the development of IPAs relate to the interpretation and application of
the IUCN Guidelines and a conceptual re-evaluation of how protected areas are established and
managed in Australia. IPAs emerged as a consequence of the political commitment to develop a National
Reserve System that is representative of all of Australia’s bioregions. The resulting development of the
Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation of Australia was an innovative policy initiative that was crucial to
the emergence of the IPA concept. New laws are currently being drafted in some jurisdictions to provide
statutory recognition of IPAs. Key innovations associated with IPAs are summarised in Table 2.
Policy or law Innovation
IUCN definition of protected
Indigenous ownership and management of IPAs ensure that the
protection and maintenance’ of ‘associated cultural resources’ is
integral to the management.
IUCN definition of protected
Indigenous ownership and management of IPAs provide an innovative
interpretation and application of ‘management through legal and/or
other effective means’.
IUCN Protected Area
IPAs represent an innovative applications of the Categories, all but
one of which provide explicit or implicit recognition of Indigenous
ownership and management of protected areas
Policy commitment to
develop a National Reserve
IPAs are an innovative mechanism to assist in the achievement of the
National Reserve System, without devoting huge financial resources
towards the purchase of land, while respecting Indigenous peoples’
right to self-determination.
Federal, State and Territory
conservation legislation
IPAs represent an innovative application of governments’ capacities to
enter into conservation and funding agreements with private
landholders. Some legislation is currently being amended to reflect
and support the development of IPAs.
Table 2: Innovative features of Indigenous Protected Areas
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CNPPA/WCMC 1994. Guidelines for Protected Area management categories. IUCN, Gland.
Environment Australia 2003.
Smyth, D. 1995. Protecting Country – Indigenous Protected Areas Phase two report. Consultancy report
prepared for the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
Smyth, D. 2001. Joint Management of National Parks. In: Baker, R., Davies, J. and Young, E. (eds.).
Working on Country – Contemporary Indigenous Management of Australia’s Lands and Coastal
Regions. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
Sutherland, J and Smyth, D. 1995. Investigating Conservation Partnerships with Indigenous Landholders.
Consultancy report prepared for the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra.
Thackway, R, Szabo, S. and Smyth, D. 1996. Indigenous Protected Areas: a new concept in biodiversity
conservation. In: Longmore, R (Ed.) Biodiversity – Broadening the Debate 4. Australian Nature
Conservation Agency, Canberra.
... An IPA is defined as an area (land or sea) identified as having high conservation priority (Smyth 2006). Successful partnerships have formed between Indigenous landowners and the Australian Federal Government controlling the administration (applications, agreements, and funding) of IPAs, conservation groups and private agencies (Austin et al., 2018). ...
Full-text available
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... In Australia, IPCAs have provided significant benefits to Aboriginal communities, including improving generational knowledge transfer, revitalizing language, reinvigorating the use of traditional practices, providing training and employment opportunities, and renewing community interest in caring for the land (Rist et al. 2019;Szabo and Smyth 2003). Our study suggests that Mi'kmaq participants were currently more supportive of pursuing co-governance opportunities than IPCAs. ...
This research examines the potential challenges and opportunities for Mi’kmaq, the Indigenous peoples who have inhabited modern-day Nova Scotia and other areas of Eastern Canada for millennia, to play a greater role in marine protected area (MPA) governance in Canada. Given Canada’s marine conservation objectives of 30% by 2030, there is a growing need for decisions affecting the establishment of MPAs to respect Indigenous rights, values, and knowledge. Using the Eastern Shore Islands (ESI) in Nova Scotia, Canada, an area of interest for MPA establishment, as a case study, we conducted 17 semi-structured interviews with both Mi’kmaq and non-Mi’kmaq participants involved in the ESI consultation processes. We used content analysis to identify key themes that respondents perceived to be affecting Mi’kmaq involvement in the federal MPA governance processes. Barriers to overcome included those deemed to be systemic within the current decision-making processes; limited understanding of Mi’kmaq culture, governance, and rights; limited clarity of Mi’kmaq rights, particularly those resulting in fisheries conflicts; and limited capacity. Opportunities highlighted the importance of meaningful consultation and understanding of Indigenous worldviews as well as the need for alternative approaches to state-led/top-down governance to improve Mi’kmaq participation in MPA governance in Atlantic Canada.
In recent years it has been stressed that the problems created by population growth and climate change are so big and of such complexity that we do not have the capacity to address them. We do not react to a cascade of situations that are driving us to absolute collapse for two reasons: (1) The mental short-termism that is inherent in any animal, including the human being, (2) the synergy of factors that act together, not being able to isolate each other to give partial solutions. In this puzzle, the oceans, after decades of being ignored, seem to take on rele�vance. The UN launched a plan to draw attention to the role of that 70% mass of water that covers the surface of our planet, finally coming to the conclusion that part of the solution lies in understanding, managing and restoring the oceans. Biodi�versity, complexity, and functionality take on relevance in one of the Sustainable Development Goals that aims to improve our oceans. Life Below Water (SDG 14) is one of the goals to be achieved in this desperate decade, in which we are going to have to race to try to save civilization in its many facets. A Decade of the Oceans has been instituted that aims to channel the greatest possible number of initiatives to substantially improve the health of marine habitats, as well as try to mitigate the impact on human communities. Fisheries, pollution, and urban expansion are some direct issues that are stressing the oceans, but we may have direct (local and regional) solutions to solve them in many cases. However, among all the challenges we face, the most global and complex one to mitigate is climate change. In the oceans, climate change is especially evident, since 93% of the heat absorbed by the earth is concentrated in the water masses that are warming rapidly. Acidification, which is the sister of warming in water masses due to the increase in CO2 that penetrates and reacts to create slightly less alkaline water, is the other large-scale problem that has a global impact and cannot be controlled locally. Marine organisms suffer these consequences, having to adapt, migrate or disappear. We have created a transition phase to a new unknown state in which some species, habitats and even biomes will prevail while others languish or simply disappear. Understanding, managing and repairing our actions in the oceans has become a very urgent task to solve the problem and understand how long this transition between systems will last. This book focuses, in seven chapters, on the perspectives and solutions that different research groups offer to try to address problems related to SDG 14: Life Below Water. The different objectives developed in SDG 14 are treated indepen�dently, with an attempt to give a global vision of the issues. The mechanism used to select the book’s content was through an Artificial Intelligence program, choosing articles related to the topics by means of keywords. The program selected those arti�cles, and those that were not related to the topic or did not focus on SDG 14 were discarded. Obviously, the selection was partial and the entire subject is not covered, but the final product gives a very solid idea of how to orient ourselves to delve deeper into the topic of SDG 14 using published chapters and articles. The AI program itself selected the text of these contributions to show the progress in different topics related to SDG 14. This mode of operation will allow specialists (and non-specialists) to collect useful information for their specific research purposes in a short period of time. At a time when information is essential in order to move quickly by providing concrete answers to complex problems, this type of approach will become essential for researchers, especially for a subject as vast as SDG 14.
It is not surprising that we are interested in plastics as one of the most prominent polluting agents of the twenty-first century. We have gone from producing less than 10 million tons in the 1960s to more than 300 million in the 2010s. That plastic has had time to distribute itself, fragment and enter food chains of the oceans. Studies related to the three phenomena are now one of the main objectives of various research projects and groups around the planet. The first is understanding how fragmentation is increasing the volume of macro and microplastics, how they are dispersed at the oceanic and local level, and what their chemical characteristics are. In line with these observations and quantifications, we have to understand what influence they have on organisms and how we can reduce their concentration. For example, the displacements of macroplastics are modeled relative to their dispersion according to global and local currents, giving importance to the phenomena of fouling and fragmentation, as well as understanding how the creation of microplastics is heterogeneous according to latitude, water temperatures or seasonal conditions. One of the biggest problems is, without a doubt, the chemical, morphological and size classification of plastics, especially micro and nanoplastics. This topic is crucial, as is the standardization of the measures that we consider to classify them in one way or another. This topic has been largely discussed during the last decade, and in this chapter there are cues to understand that the consensus is very close. Other issues are still pending in the complex agenda of the understanding of these pollutants. For example, the adherence of certain types of elements such as heavy metals is a relevant issue on which much information is lacking. But it is not the only knowledge gap that we have. Dynamics in the water column and in the sediment is also a main issue, since this sediment is a sink for microplastics and nanoplastics that is continually disturbed by organisms from the meiofauna. Some of these microplastics become airborne, and their range from likely emission sources is still poorly understood. The understanding of these fluxes from the land-river to the sediments passing through the water column is one of the main challenges to solve the problems derived from the presence of such macro, micro and nano items. Marine organisms are the ones that, apparently, are the most affected by this increase in solid contamination, especially microplastics. Today they are found at any latitude, from the poles to the equator, even in places as surprising as sea ice or abyssal depths. In fact, microplastics are found in very remote places, interfering with the diet of various planktonic and benthic organisms. There are many questions to be resolved, among others, how temperature affects the retention of microplastics in organisms, or which are the most vulnerable species. And we have to understand one important issue: many of those marine organisms affected by micro and nano plastics are part of our diet. Therefore, understanding the rate of transmission in food chains in general and in our consumption in particular is a major issue. That is why we looked for solutions, such as the use of bioremediators (active suspension feeders such as sponges, sea squirts, etc.) in areas where the abundance of microplastics is especially high. Bacteria are also beginning to be used as active decomposers of microplastics, a solution that could help eliminate a large amount of this material about which we still have too many knowledge gaps regarding the health of ecosystems and our own health. The synergy of efforts to understand all these different variables is crucial. During the next decade we do have to solve this plastic problem, with coordination, standardization and the application of different tools to execute the solutions of different associated problems.
An important part of the health of the oceans depends on a good balance of the biogeochemical cycles. Both climate change (in its broadest sense, from the warming of the oceans to acidification) and the introduction of excess nutrients or heavy metals have caused, in many places, distortions in the balances between chemical elements, organisms and detritus. A series of scenarios have been created in which the excess or absence of certain components are distorting carbon fluxes or biomass accumulation. Such changes are not new at all, but now are accelerating and we have to be ready to understand and manage the repercussions that they may have locally and globally. An increase in nitrogen and phosphorus due to land changes in the Amazon, together with other local phenomena, are promoting an uncontrolled increase in Sargassum, which moves every year with the currents until it invades the Caribbean coast, for example. There is such inertia in the entry of these nutrients into the ocean that it becomes difficult to manage them, and even in areas where there is already a much more exhaustive control of the agricultural or industrial activities that promote them, the proliferation of micro and macro algae seems unstoppable. The microbial composition and also the seasonality are key points that have to be considered, especially when certain physical phenomena are weakened such as upwelling (and the related nutrient supply) or the ocean currents (and the related nutrient transport). Several models are based not only on temperature changes (which affect the availability of macro and micronutrients) but also on coastal morphology and local current dynamics. Such models are complex but very useful to understand, locally, what may happen with a cascade effect, such as the relationship of biogeochemical cycles with primary productivity and, in turn, with biomass production. Climate change is greatly affecting this nutrient availability, not only because the physical-chemical balance may be changing, but also because the organisms that process these nutrients are also changing and their ability to recycle may be affected. Acidification also enters this equation, which makes some microelements less available, or makes some species (for example, coccolithophorids) less capable of completing their life cycles, compete for nutrients or suffer more predation because they have more fragile structures. Latitude must also be taken into account in these changes, both due to the effects of climate change and the direct impacts of human activities that have profoundly transformed many ocean environments. In certain areas the predominance of the impact on biogeochemical cycle comes from the direct action of humans (e.g. fertilizers, farming, etc.), but in others the predominance comes from the warming or acidifying effect due to climate change. Thus, for example, the most accelerated changes in the Arctic are having very rapid effects on these biogeochemical cycles, both due to the increase in temperature and acidification and also due to the fact that the dynamics and coverage of the ice are changing. In this area, the direct impacts by pollution and eutrophication are replaced by climate change accelerating paths. Associated with these changes in nutrient cycles is the decrease in available oxygen that alters the physiological capacities of some organisms. The increase in temperature, the decrease in primary production and the slowdown in currents in various parts of the planet are affecting the response capacity of organisms, from benthic to pelagic. No less important is also the fact that stormy phenomena of different types are increasing in frequency and intensity. Storms and hurricanes are also responsible for the distortion of biogeochemical cycles, in some cases impoverishing biomass production and its quality for the following trophic levels. It is a very complex scenario in which the physiology and adaptability of many organisms is at stake, and which we will have to understand in order to properly manage marine resources in the near future.
Climate change, rigorously heralded more than thirty years ago as a real threat, has become the most pressing and pernicious global problem for the entire planet. In conjunction with local impacts such as fishing, eutrophication or the invasion of alien species, to give just a few examples, the acidification of the oceans and the warming of the sea began to show its effects more than twenty years ago. These signals were ignored at the time by the governing bodies and by the economic stakeholders, who now see how we must run to repair the huge inflicted damage. Today, different processes are accelerating, and the thermodynamic machine has definitely deteriorated. We see, for example, that the intensity and magnitude of hurricanes and typhoons has increased. Most models announce more devastation of flash floods and a decomposition in the water cycle, which are factors directly affecting ecosystems all over the world. Important advances are also observed in the forecasting of impacts of atmospheric phenomena in coastal areas with more and more accurate models. Rising temperatures and acidification already affect many organisms, impacting the entire food chain. All organisms, pelagic or benthic, will be affected directly or indirectly by climate change at all depths and in all the latitudes. The impact will be non-homogeneous. In certain areas it will be more drastic than in others, and the visualization of such impacts is already ongoing. Some things may be very evident, such as coral mortalities in tropical areas or in the surface waters of the Mediterranean, while others may be less visible, such as changes in microelement availability affecting plankton productivity. In fact, primary productivity in microalgae, macroalgae and phanerogams is already beginning to feel the impact of warmer, stratified and nutrient-poor waters in many parts of the planet. Nutrients are becoming less available, temperature is rising above certain tolerance limits and water movement (turbulence) may change in certain areas favoring certain species of microplankton instead of others. All these mechanisms, together with light availability (which, in principle, is not drastically changing except for the cloudiness), affect the growth of the organisms that can photosynthesize and produce oxygen and organic matter for the rest of the trophic chain. That shift in productivity completely changes the rest of the food chain. In the Arctic or Antarctic, the problem is slightly different. Life depends on the dynamics of ice that is subject to seasonal changes. But winter solidification and summer dissolution is undergoing profound changes, causing organisms that are adapted to that rhythm of ice change to be under pressure. The change is more evident in the North Pole, but is also visible in the South pole, where the sea ice cover has also dramatically changed. In the chapter there is also a mention about the general problem of the water currents and their profound change do greenhouse gas effects. The warming of the waters and their influence on the marine currents are also already affecting the different ocean habitats. The slowdown of certain processes is causing an acceleration in the deoxygenation of the deepest areas and therefore an impact on the fragile communities of cold corals that populate large areas of our planet. Many organisms will be affected in their dispersion and their ability to colonize new areas or maintain a connection between different populations. The rapid adaptations to these new changes are apparent. Nature is on its course of restart from these new changes, but in this transitional phase the complexity and interactions that have taken thousands or millions of years to form can fade away until a new normal is consolidated.
The impacts of industrial fishing have been present in the oceans for over one hundred years, but the exponential increase all over the world and the systematic exploitation of different areas started after world war II. The phenomenon of fishing has to be understood in order to understand the changes in the oceans, and such deep transformation is essential to capture the essence of the resilience: the collapse of fish stocks, the lack of biodiversity, and the profound transformation of ecosystems due to overfishing is in part responsible for the ocean’s impacted functioning that we witness today. It now seems that the collapse of many habitats is to blame for rising acidification or temperature, but the reality is that the impact of overfishing on pelagic and benthic systems is largely responsible for the profound transformations we see today. Trawling has devastated entire ecosystems, destroying the complexity of marine forests, both those that are dominated by vegetal organisms (macroalgae and phanerogams) and those dominated by animals (corals, gorgonians, sponges, etc.). It has been possible to verify that it is not only the destruction of the structures, but the compaction of the sediment and the continuous resuspension that made possible the impoverishment of the communities and therefore of the impoverishment of the fishing stocks. Beyond these impacts, pelagic fisheries have seen profound changes in populations, which evolve to the sound of fishing pressure. The minimum size of successful reproduction (i.e. the size in which the fish is lying eggs to promote the continuity of the populations), for example, has been drastically changed in many species, making possible for populations to survive despite the immense pressure of the predator, us. In addition, these fisheries highlight the fact that many animals are trapped with nets and long lines (dolphins, turtles, birds, etc.). The solutions to these problems are sometimes difficult to apply. These large organisms are usually essential for the health status of the ecosystem and the maintenance of the biodiversity, but we are impacting them in such a way that they have become irrelevant from an ecosystem functioning point of view. The so-called by-catch of smaller organisms is another huge problem. Discards (sometimes more than 50% of fisheries) profoundly harm and transform the ecosystem, and are difficult to sell in the fishing market. Solutions have been sought for decades and this collateral damage has been denounced, but there is still a long way to go. There is also a long way to go to eliminate the high percentage (calculated in more than a quarter of the fish landings of the entire planet) of those known as illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries. This type of mismanagement of the sea is at the heart of the active policies of many countries, but without transparency and transnational actions, it will it will be difficult to reach a good agreement to suppress or minimize them. In fisheries models, apart from direct impacts, the effects of climate change have long been implemented. As already explained in the previous chapter, rising temperatures and the effects of acidification are transforming the landscape of primary and secondary productivity. The most obvious of these changes is the fact that there will be less fishing, and therefore less production. The effect of lower productivity is already felt in several long-lasting time series, where fishing is being affected by the decrease in phytoplankton. But, in addition, there are less obvious effects. One is the substitution of species, because some are more vulnerable than others to the increase in temperature, so that in the same taxonomic and functional group those who are best adapted to the new conditions win. Another is the expansion of invasive species that directly affect the food chain, and that may feel more comfortable with the new “rules” of fisheries impact and climate change. Some animals are already undergoing these changes, such as cetaceans dying of starvation in certain areas where the synergistic effects of fishing and climate change are felt. The co-governance of fisheries, in which scientists, politicians and society work together, is essential to move forward. They are not hollow words; they are real needs in a world of an excessively accelerated change.
It is difficult to make a synthesis of the new trends in the so-called Blue Growth. This chapter opens a small window with some examples that can serve to understand a little bit the trends of some (not all) sectors that are in full expansion all over the world simultaneously, with their pros and cons. There is a need to change the rules of the game, the paradigms to which we have so far been working with. It is not a simple exercise. It needs a lot of will and a deep understanding of what are the limits and dangers of the old model in which we still live immersed. Many examples show that the actual model runs too fast and has a direct impact on natural resources and ecosystem functioning. In this framework, aquaculture is coming under specific scrutiny. We have gone from an almost negligible aquaculture figure in the ‘70s in terms of fisheries production, to almost half of the biomass extracted from the sea and continental waters from this “farming” activity. This is a considerable achievement, but it has its consequences. The impact of monocultures (salmon, shrimp, etc.) has been, in many places, equal to or worse than overfishing. Eutrophication, salinization, introduction of drugs to contain diseases, the use of wild fish to feed mariculture species or the systematic hunting of potential predators (eagles, seals, etc.) are only some of the problems associated with aquaculture nowadays. The impact on wild ecosystems such as mangroves or fjords is very relevant, and has been highlighted as one of the most important problems to be solved in coastal waters. A new vision is that of the Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture. This is a method that is gaining strength and that may be the change we need, especially if we move from species of high energy and carbon investment (carnivores) to those species that require less energetic effort (such as bivalves, macroalgae, holothurians, etc.). To do this, one of the first things to do is a good forecast of the impact of climate change, selecting the most suitable organisms (and areas) according to the changing environmental conditions. The regional possibilities (i.e., those areas that may be suitable for a mariculture expansion) and the carrying capacity of the surrounding ecosystems according to different areas must also be taken into account if we want a significant paradigm change. Also, the inclusion of stakeholders and clear co-governance roles of these kind of infrastructures has to be understood as a tool to a successful management of the products that will be available for the local people. The Blue Growth related to the mariculture is not the only open front for the future. The use of microalgae is another type of approach to a future in which low-energy cost organisms are gradually taking center stage. The possibilities have a wide spectrum, and now these microorganisms are beginning to be applied industrially in nutraceuticals, biofuels or for the generation of interesting molecules for biomedical applications. The solutions are there, and changing the priorities and the way we apply the different discoveries to be in line with SDG14 in this Blue Growth strategy is a challenge. In fact, it is not all positive prospects in Blue Growth. There are cases in which excessive acceleration of production and inadequate management of “new generation” resources can cause stress on systems, especially in places with fragile ecosystem balances. In addition, considering the production of alternative energies such as offshore wind, or the new planning of maritime traffic, we have to deeply change our way to proceed. The Blue Growth roadmap must change the paradigm if we really want to consider it sustainable. New solutions and new perspectives in a changing world that require spatial planning and a very different model of resource management than the one we are now applying are urgently needed, considering new models of production, economy and social interaction.
The acceleration of the processes of biodiversity loss and complexity has gone too far, putting ourselves as a species in a crossroads. We now understand that it is not enough to conserve, we need to regenerate. That regeneration goes through two different paradigm changes. The first takes into account upscaling plans. That concept is based on the fact that restoration to regenerate ecosystems is on the verge, but there is a lack of a good plan to create large-scale animal and plant forest restoration programs in different areas of the oceans. The second paradigm is the participation of people, but not only as volunteers; the restoration plans need them as customers. The first paradigm is closely linked to the second. There has to be a business model that allows, in part, to pay for conservation and restoration, which, in turn, will allow for regeneration. However, we are not talking about a privatization process, as has sometimes been attempted. It is not about allowing access only to those who can afford it. Is about making people of different economic statuses and possibilities a part of the process of restoring, and giving them a real return in terms of awareness, education and enthusiasm related to the enhancement and recovery of biodiversity and complexity. People are willing to pay to maintain that complexity, that beauty, that diversity of animals and plants. Tourism can, therefore, make a difference in new conservation plans. It is not enough to expand marine protected areas, we must provide financial mechanisms so that the surveillance and infrastructure of the area we want to regenerate can be maintained. At the same time that this area is preserved, it can be replanted. Methods to quantify biodiversity, calculate the metabolism of the system and recover degraded areas with underwater gardening exist. It is demonstrated, for example, in the advances made in transplant methods for phanerogams, the environmental DNA to calculate the biodiversity of the area, and the calculations on the state of health of a coral reef. However, technology and great advances are not enough. We need to implement an inclusive policy in which local people, especially indigenous people, help in both conservation and restoration processes. They are the first that want (and need) to maintain or recover the lost habitats, but in many cases the policy makers and some stakeholders do not consider them in the equation. We must create those conditions of synergy in which the academic world, the political world and society itself (local and foreign) come together to solve the problems related to the loss of ecosystem services in the oceans.
What can we learn from the prodigious expansion of the non-government protected areas that now comprise 12% of terrestrial Australia? An increasingly professional, formal, and diverse non-government sector has developed since 1990, comprising private individuals, non-government organizations, and First Nations and having close ties to governments. We investigate the drivers, dynamics, and diversity of this sector through thematic analysis of 24 key informant interviews and associated gray literature. Changing environmental movements, science-led conservation, partial recognition of First Nations land rights, international agreements, and neoliberal reforms combined to formalize the sector during the 1990s. A bipartisan policy framework for incorporating non-government lands in the national conservation estate, diverse partnerships, transnational networks, and innovation in public and private funding helped grow the sector. The confluence of interests that has transformed the politics and practice of nature conservation in Australia is likely to inform those engaged with similar changes elsewhere.
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Australia is committed to developing a national reserve system (NRS). The land area of Australia proclaimed by governments as parks and reserves is about 6.5%. Given the high cost of land acquisition governments are investigating options for cooperative management with land holders outside conservation reserves. About 15% of the land area of Australia is owned or leased by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. ANCA in consultation with these groups has been investigating the potential for voluntary conservation agreements over land owned or leased by indigenous groups. Investigations by ANCA show there are no legal impediments to these groups declaring their land as an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) according to the IUCN protected areas categories. Consultations show that indigenous people require government support to establish such protected areas. Voluntary agreements between the nature conservation agencies and indigenous people would provide a cooperative way to conserve biodiversity. Accordingly, indigenous lands which lie outside reserves could be proclaimed and managed by indigenous people as an IPA. An IPA could then be recognised through a voluntary management agreement, becoming part of the NRS. The application of the IPA concept to sea country is also being investigated. ANCA has agreed to support an expanding role for indigenous peoples in the management of the publicly owned protected areas that could be managed in partnership with indigenous people.
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