Australian Sea Country Delegation to 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4)

Published: 25 Sep 2017

The Australian Sea Country Delegation packed their bags from regional and remote corners of Australia to go to the 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4) to share recent developments in Sea County Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) governance and other Sea Country management initiatives in Australia with Marine Protected Area (MPA) professionals and other Indigenous groups from around the world. The delegation was also keen to learn more about developments in this field elsewhere and to make contact with key individuals and organisations with the prospect of future collaboration.

The delegation included Girringun Aboriginal Corporation executive officer Phil Rist and Indigenous Protected Area coordinator Whitney Rassip, Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation senior cultural advisor Djalinda Ulamari, Charles Darwin University Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Jackie Gould, and Sea Country planning consultants Melanie Dulfer-Hyams and Dermot Smyth. Girringun and Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporations are supporting organisations of the Country Needs People campaign.


Arriving in La Serena, touring Humboldt Penguin Marine Reserve, and team planning for presentations and events at the conference.



Delegates in the lead up to and at the conference - walking around La Serena; pre-conference lunch with Parks Australia, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and other government agency delegates; Jackie and Whitney exploring Djiru country on the interactive google screen at the conference; and La Serena sunset after the first full day at the conference.



Presentations were well received, with time to spare to catch up with old and new colleagues and enjoy some of the conferences activities.  

Individually and collectively all members of the delegation took the opportunity to attend many presentations and workshops addressing Indigenous and local community engagement in MPAs, and where possible to meet informally later with the presenters.  Over the five days of the Congress most contact was made with Indigenous people from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the Patagonian region of southern Chile, Hawaii and Canada. 



Clockwise from top left: Phil and Whitney with Kalani Quiocho, Native Hawaiian Program Coordinator at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument; Whitney meeting with an Indigenous representative from Chile’s Patagonia region; The delegation with Francisco Solis Germani, Director for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Chilean Patagonia Project;  Dermot and Jackie with Luciano Hiriart-Bertrand from Costa Humbolt (NGO); Phil, Whitney and Dermot meeting with Rapa Nui delegates and founders of Toki (NGO), Mahani Teave and Enrique Icka; (R) Phil with WWF delegates, John Tanzer (Director Global Marine Program) and Gilly Llewellyn (Deputy Director Global Oceans Practice).

In a report detailing their reflections and learning, the delegation said they felt privileged to take part in this international congress, to learn so much about what is happening elsewhere in the world and to share the unique experiences and initiatives to protect, manage and sustainably use the marine environment through marine protected areas. Key take home messages for the delegation included:

  • Despite ongoing conflicts, inadequate resolution of competing interests and inequitable access to marine resources in many parts if the world, there is increasing recognition of the necessity of planning, governing and managing MPAs collaboratively with all parties with legitimate interests in the sea, including Indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • Despite this recognition, the dominant MPA model appears to be driven by government agencies with negotiated (often limited) engagement of Indigenous people and other parties. We did not encounter any Indigenous driven collaborative governance of MPAs equivalent to Sea Country IPAs in Australia.
  • It was also clear that there is currently a limited understanding among some Australian State and Commonwealth MPA professionals about how Sea Country IPAs are planned, governed and managed, and their growing contribution to Australia’s marine protected area estate.
  • Which indicates the need for us to better communicate the Sea Country IPA story among our colleagues in Australia and elsewhere.

Click here for more information about how Indigenous rangers are protecting sea country.