NERP TE Project 12.1 - Indigenous co-management and biodiversity protection (CSIRO)

This project focused on finding out what works well, and why, for Indigenous co-management and biodiversity protection in wet tropics country. The co-research approach developed mutual benefits and an ethical approach through:

  • Funding provided for Traditional Owner roles.
  • Working with Indigenous organisations:
    • Girringun Aboriginal Corporation
    • Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation
    • Mandingalbay Yidinji Aboriginal Corporation
  • Protection of Intellectual and Cultural Property by:
    • Collaboration Agreements
    • Aboriginal people retain all ownership of their ICP
    • Ownership of new material is shared
    • Licences to use the material to all parties

For many years, efforts to improve conservation of nature have focused on management. However, this co-research has shown that a focus on governance - who decides about what is to be done, and how those decisions are taken - is often more effective for improving conservation outcomes, and can deliver multiple benefits. This research found that collaborative governance with Rainforest Aboriginal peoples is increasing, primarily through Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Land Use Agreements, and is critical for improving management of natural and cultural values. It requires a flexible, solution-building process, involving extensive talking, negotiations and jointly learning, so it gets better over time.

Collaborative governance can enhance governance vitality, one of the three key dimensions recognised by the IUCN as central for governance of nature conservation (Borrini-Feyerabend and Hill 2004, in press).

IPAs are particularly effective at enhancing governance vitality because they:

  • Are led by Traditional Owners (empowered)
  • Bring partners around the table (connected)
  • Recognise Indigenous knowledge (wise)
  • Are flexible (adaptive)
  • Are based on new multi-tenure arrangements (innovative).

There are opportunities to value-add to the benefits from IPAs by expanding their coverage across the wet tropics, and focusing them on management of nationally and internationally significant values.

Protected Area Indigenous Land Use Agreements, the other major initiative underpinning co-management of wet tropics country, show few of the features of governance vitality. They are based on adversarial negotiations, with a focus on regulating native title rights, with little recognition of Indigenous knowledge, and few resources are provided for implementation. Nevertheless, there are opportunities to improve the ILUAs through adoption of Indigenous-led planning, recognition of Indigenous knowledge, and provisions for collaborative management such as occurs through ILUAs in Cape York Peninsula. Collaboration between Native Title Corporations and Local Government can also improve co-management in wet tropics country

There currently inequitable progress on recognition of Indigenous knowledge and values for different groups in different parts of wet tropics country. Establishment of a knowledge-network could provide flexible and diverse ways for people working on similar issues to share experiences and help one-another, for example through dialogues, workshops, websites and social media. A knowledge network could support Aboriginal businesses, native title corporations, family groups, IPA and Ranger managers, research organisation, NRM and heritage managers to share knowledge about issues including Indigenous-driven planning; relationship-building; and practicing free prior and informed consent.

Collaborative governance of wet tropics country produces a wide range of political, social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits. In addition, we identified that both biocultural diversity and governance are important for mapping Indigenous cultural ecosystem services.

Reports, Publications and News


For more information see Project 12.1 'Indigenous co-management and biodiversity protection' on the NERP Tropical Ecosystems Hub site.



1 July 2015

The project seeks to improve understanding of practices that can underpin co-management arrangements for conservation areas, including the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA).

A co-research team of CSIRO scientists, Rainforest Aboriginal peoples, protected area managers and other key partners will investigate the potential of Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), and other collaborative models and tools, to engage Indigenous values and world views. The team will focus on the conditions under which these arrangements lead to effective joint management.