A participatory approach to research in northern Australia supports Indigenous people’s strong cultural links to the environment.
Collaborating with Indigenous communities and ranger groups, researchers undertook 3 case studies to develop tools for improved land and sea Country management. Partnering Indigenous ecological knowledge with scientific methods and facilitating access to specialist data were significant steps in monitoring and managing biodiversity in remote areas of northern Australia.
Funded through the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program, the Northern Australia Hub’s successful participatory approach highlights the need for meaningful linkages between local priorities and scientific research where Indigenous people have ownership and/or management authority for the landscape. Community involvement, using traditional and local knowledge, drawing on the professional capabilities within existing Indigenous ranger programs and sharing case-study outcomes across communities, has supported sustainable and long-term environmental monitoring by and for local Indigenous communities. The result is improved information and management of natural heritage at local, regional and national levels (NAERP 2016).
Building on the I-Tracker program undertaken by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), the Nyul Nyul freshwater monitoring project developed data collection applications, and mapping and reporting capabilities using CyberTrackerTM software.
"We manage our land and sea. We work with our Traditional Owners. We protect our cultural sites and heritage. We maintain our springs and coastline."
—Nyul Nyul Rangers
A partnership between the Nyul Nyul Rangers, NAILSMA, Griffith University and the University of Western Australia’s Waterways Education Program enabled the community to introduce the research team to their unique Kimberley region freshwater systems. Rangers expressed an interest in obtaining support for freshwater research, and wanted to better understand, manage and monitor fresh water on Nyul Nyul Country. The partnership approach combined scientific sampling and Nyul Nyul Indigenous ecological knowledge gathered during the project, to provide a broader understanding of the biodiversity in, and pressures and threats to, these systems. Collaboration and sharing of knowledge resulted in a management plan that incorporates natural, cultural and social values, and recommends using both western science and traditional techniques for managing freshwater ecosystems (Dobbs et al. 2015).
This case study highlights the benefits of high-level public-sector funding, and the importance of applied research to traditional land and sea management for natural and cultural heritage places.