Managing the Northern Australian Coastline through Indigenous Protected Areas
Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Indigenous-owned land currently makes up more than 40 per cent of Australia's Northern Territory, including 87 per cent of the coastline (Sithole, Whitehead and Kerins 2007). It contains some of the most biodiversity rich lands in the country (Altman, Buchanan and Larson 2007). In Northern Australia, climate change is predicted to impact on water availability and species composition, abundance and diversity, with likely loss of native flora and fauna (Dunlop and Brown 2008), as well as increase the likelihood of extreme weather events (Green, Jackson and Morrison 2009). Research also shows that this region faces major threats from feral animals, exotic weeds, changed fire regimes and marine and terrestrial pollution (Altman and Whitehead 2003).
Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are part of Australia's National Reserve System (NRS). They provide a management framework for Indigenous-owned land in which Traditional Owners voluntarily conserve biodiversity and protect their culture.
In this paper we critically analyse the effectiveness of the IPA program as a model of good practice for managing Indigenous-owned coastal zones in northern Australia.
The paper focuses on two IPAs located in the Arnhem Land Coast bioregions in the Northern Territory. Data on management effectiveness was collected through a series of questionnaires to land managers, field work and participant observation in the study areas.
The analysis indicates that the IPAs under study suffer from a problem of scale-mismatch. Some ecological processes and environmental threats are not confined to the IPA boundaries. Hence, management activities within an IPA can only mitigate environmental problems that originate outside IPA boundaries. A lack of integrated coastal zone management also limits the ability to manage environmental risks within IPAs. Further, overlapping governance arrangements, institutions and processes affect IPA management effectiveness. While Australia's IPA program is being hailed as an effective environmental management framework for biodiversity conservation, our analysis indicates that there is a scale mismatch in terms of both ecological processes and institutional spatial arrangements.
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2011