Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas: growing Australia’s marine protected area estate through Indigenous-led collaborative governance of coastal and marine estates

Dr Margaret Ayre1, Dr Dermot Symth2, Dr Jackie Gould3

1The University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2Smyth & Bardht Consultants, Atherton, Australia, 3Charles Darwin University, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Darwin, Australia


This presentation explores a unique and effective form of collaborative governance for marine and coastal conservation that empowers Indigenous communities, governments, industries and communities alike to work together to achieve social, cultural and ecological sustainability goals. This collaborative governance approach  has emerged in the context of the creation of Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas (SC IPAs) over the past decade in Australia by Indigenous communities exercising their stewardship of marine/coastal areas. In this presentation, we identify the governance attributes of SC IPAs through case studies to show how these align with international ‘good governance’ principles for management of complex socio-cultural-ecological systems. These attributes include: Indigenous leadership and empowerment; a focus on Indigenous law and governance as the basis for collaboration; the flexibility to account for different legal regimes and tenures; the inclusion of other stakeholders in productive partnerships; and, the recognition of ‘sea country’ as the key spatial extent of decision making and management action.   We argue that SC IPAs represent an effective form of governance for marine/coastal areas and should be widely recognised by marine policy makers and managers for their contribution to the management of Australia’s marine estate.


Margaret Ayre has worked for over 20 years in natural resource management, education and rural and agricultural development as an applied social scientist. She has also worked as a Senior Policy Officer with the Australian Government (National Oceans Office) where she was project manager of an innovation program of sea country planning which aimed to support Indigenous owners and managers of marine and coastal estates to develop their own integrated planning frameowrks for these estates.

Management of coastal Aboriginal cultural heritage sites

Mr Ross Stanger1

1Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania, Hobart, Australia


Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for at least 40,000 years. Throughout this time Aboriginal people managed and modified the landscape, successfully adapting to significant environmental changes including substantial temperature and sea level variations. Archaeological evidence of Aboriginal occupation includes a large number of coastal cultural heritage sites including extensive shell middens, rock markings and artefact scatters. Effective ongoing management of these coastal cultural heritage sites is challenging as cultural activities, natural processes and the effects of climate change have the capacity to adversely impact the condition and integrity of the sites and the surrounding landscape. These challenges are compounded by the geographic isolation of many cultural heritage sites and availability of funding for their management.

Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (AHT) plays an important role in the effective management, recognition and protection of these coastal cultural heritage sites in collaboration and partnership with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. This presentation will outline the roles and responsibilities of AHT, the Tasmanian legislative framework, and the challenges and constraints relating to effective management of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites in Tasmania. It will also examine case studies of current and future projects which aim to ensure the effective ongoing management of coastal Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.


Ross Stanger is an archaeologist within the Cultural Management Group of Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania. Ross has 15 years of experience within cultural heritage management and has been employed as an archaeologist and cultural heritage adviser in a numerous roles throughout Australia and the United Kingdom.

Aboriginal engagement in marine park conservation and management

Ms Zoe Cozens1

1Parks Australia, Marine Protected Areas Branch, Kingston, Australia


Parks Australia manages more than 3 million square kilometres of Australia’s ocean, in 58 marine parks located in Commonwealth waters around the country.

In recognition that Indigenous people have been sustainably using and managing their sea country, including areas now in marine parks, for tens of thousands of years, and the deep understanding and experience that Indigenous people can contribute, Parks Australia has committed to working with Indigenous people to collaboratively manage these parks into the future.

To inform our approach to this collaboration, Parks Australia worked with representatives from land councils, native title representative bodies and Indigenous ranger groups to develop a set of collaborative management principles to support Indigenous involvement in the management of Australian Marine Parks. These principles have informed development of management plans for these parks, as well as our approach to building partnerships and engaging with Indigenous people about marine parks.

Parks Australia has also committed to a national Indigenous engagement program, which is building partnerships with traditional owners and Indigenous people with responsibilities for sea country.

In many locations, Indigenous communities have established ranger groups and dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas over sea country nearby or overlapping with Australian Marine Parks. These rangers are making a significant contribution to the management of sea country, including in Australian Marine Parks.

Though the Indigenous engagement program, we are developing partnership and contracts to support Indigenous rangers and groups to manage our marine parks, taking actions like monitoring and research, surveillance, marine debris clean-ups and patrols.

This is an exciting time for Parks Australia, building partnerships that we hope will last the test of time and strengthen our approach to managing Australia’s important and unique oceans.


I have worked for the Department of Environment for the last 10+ years on migratory and marine species,  marine bioregional planning, marine park design,  planning and management and also worked as the manager of the cultural heritage and biodiversity management team at Kakadu National Park. Currently I lead the Indigenous engagement program for Australian Marine Parks (formerly known as Commonwealth Marine Reserves).

About the Association

The Australian Coastal Society (ACS) was initiated at the Coast to Coast Conference in Tasmania in 2004. The idea was floated as a means for those interested in coastal matters to communicate between conferences and where possible take resolutions of the conference to appropriate levels of government.

The idea was discussed further at the Coast to Coast Conference in Melbourne in 2006 and it was agreed that Bruce Thom develop a constitution of a company limited by guarantee that would operate on a national basis.

This plan was accomplished and in 2008 at the Coast to Coast Conference in Darwin the constitution was ratified and an Executive appointed. The company received charitable status in 2011.

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