Indigenous Protected Area

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The proposed Ngarrabullgin Indigenous Protected Area

An Indigenous Protected Area is a class of protected area formed by agreement with Indigenous Australians, declared by Indigenous Australians, and formally recognised by the Government of Australia as being part of its National Reserve System.[1][2]

By agreeing to establish Indigenous Protected Areas, Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders have (over the decade 1997-2007) contributed two thirds of all new additions to Australia's National Reserve System.[3]


During the 1990s the Australian Government was working in cooperation with State and Territory Governments to build a National Reserve System aimed at protecting, for future generations, a representative sample of Australia's diverse range of flora, fauna and eco-systems.[3]

As part of this effort, Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander owners of lands and seas were asked, and many who were interested in re-establishing effective indigenous land management agreed to participate in this endeavour.[3]

At a national conference of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders held in 1997, it was agreed and resolved by the delegates present that a new class of 'indigenous' protected area should be formed as follows:[4]

"An Indigenous Protected Area is [to be] governed by the continuing responsibilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to care for and protect lands and waters for present and future generations."

"Indigenous Protected Areas 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."

The first trialing of this new environmental partnership aimed at adding the new class of Protected Areas to Australia's National Reserve System, was with the Adnyamathanha people of Nepabunna Aboriginal community volunteering 580 square kilometres of rugged limestone hills, siltstone flats, springs and waterholes between the Flinders Ranges and Gammon Ranges National Parks to be managed as an Indigenous Protected Area.[3][5]

The land selected for the first proposed Indigenous Protected area was held by the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust, and, by 26 August 1998, an agreement had been reached to see the Adnyamathanha people of Nepabunna Aboriginal community engaged and some employed in restoring the landscape to its former natural and cultural value, and Australia's first Indigenous Protected Area, the Nantawarrina Indigenous Protected Area was declared.[5]

By 2007 the kind of partnership agreed and started with the Nantawarrina Indigenous Protected Area had grown to include 23 declared Indigenous Protected Areas covering close to 170,000 square kilometres or 23 per cent of the National Reserve System.[3]

In July 2012, The Nature Conservancy, alongside IPA alongside the Central Land Council and government representatives from Australia’s National Reserve System, helped announce the launch of the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area.This Indigenous Protected Area is Australia’s largest land reserve, spanning 10.15 million hectares.[6] It protects important pieces of the Northern Territory’s natural legacy. Included in the Southern Tanami reserve are much of Lake Mackay—Australia’s second-largest lake—and an enormous swath of the Tanami Desert. This IPA links a variety of habitats that includes deserts and savannas, giving plant and animal species the space they need to maneuver around threats like wildfires and climate change.[7]


Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander land and sea owners (including native title holders) may be encouraged, or themselves apply to the Australian Government to establish an Indigenous Protected Area on their lands/seas. However, an Indigenous Protected Area can only come into existence where:[1]

  • land and/or seas are owned by Aboriginal Australians or Torres Strait Islanders; and
  • significant biodiversity occurs within such Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander owned lands or seas; and
  • the Aboriginal Australians or Torres Strait Islanders concerned enter into a formal conservation agreement with the Australian Government to manage some of their lands or seas as an IUCN standard "protected area".


Some examples of Indigenous Protect Areas are:

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

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