IPA IN FOCUS: Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area

Published: 27 Mar 2024

Edgar Ranges, Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Discover the Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area in the stunning southwest region of the Kimberleys south of Broome. Spanning three million hectares, from Pirra (inland areas) to Jurarr (coastal areas), it is roughly the same size as Albania.


“From Pukarrikarra ‘yalawarra wantin pakarrangu, kuwirrangu.’

What sits on the belly of the earth is the plants, animals, water that we are to look after, like our old people.”

-Julieanne (Jessica) Bangu (1963-2023), Senior Cultural Ranger, Karajarri Rangers. 

(Cited with permission.)


Karajarri-kura Ngurra (Karajarri Country)

For Karajarri people the country, plants, animals, and water are Wankayi (alive). Karajarri-kura Ngurra (Karajarri Country) stretches from WA’s largest uninterrupted beach - Malampurr (Eighty Mile Beach) - to Gourdon Bay in the north, seaward into the Indian Ocean and inland to the Great Sandy Desert and the breakaway lands near the Edgar Ranges.

“It’s really beautiful here”, says Karajarri Ranger Sharon Everett. “The desert meets the coast. There are kangaroos, goanna, turkey on the land. Lots of fish from the sea – shark, salmon, stingrays. We like living off the land.”

Karajarri Ranger Sharon Everett enjoying Sea Country. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Karajarri language is from Pukarrikarrajangka (the Dreaming) and has three dialects (Naja Naja, Nawurtu and Nangu) which connect broadly to the three geographies - the coast, inland and the desert.

In 2002 and 2004, Karajarri people were recognised as the Native Title holders of most of their traditional lands and in 2014, after much consultation and planning, the Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) was declared.

Location of Karajarri Indigenous Protected Area. Map source: Country Needs People.


Karajarri IPA

The Karajarri IPA is diverse and covers desert dunes, inland creeks, rocky outcrops and inland saltwater creeks and freshwater springs in Pirra (inland); and pristine white sandy beaches, mangroves, lagoons, reefs, and sea grass beds in Jurarr (coastal). The wetlands and springs are ‘living water sites’, a permanent freshwater haven for birds during the dry season.

The IPA plan provides a strategic overview and guide for day-to-day work, including for rangers, which facilitates a strong integration of biodiversity and cultural management with the community in a strategic way.

Spanning close to 3 million hectares, the IPA includes two wetlands which have been designated for their international Importance – Walyarta (Salt Creek) and Malampurr (Eighty Mile Beach) which is also a joint-managed marine park with the WA Government and the Federal Government.

Karajarri IPA is a haven for 30 migratory bird species listed in international treaties. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Sharon Everett is quick to declare how enriching it is to be coming back to Country - she loves learning about all the animals that reside there, and the conservation and cultural values of the IPA through her ranger work.

The Karajarri IPA is home to 24 endangered and vulnerable animals including 30 migratory bird species listed in international treaties, various turtles including the flat back turtle who nests and forages at Malampurr (Eighty Mile Beach), and two rare sawfish species – the green and dwarf sawfish.

As well as protecting nature, Indigenous Protected Areas also protect culture and on the Karajarri IPA this includes fish traps, ceremonial sites, freshwater springs and Pulany (mythical Serpent) sites. Continuous living culture is also practised with storytelling, making spears, fishing, hunting, and collecting bush mayi (fruits). Due to the profound impacts of colonisation, keeping language alive is vital in this living classroom on Country.

“We help out old people also, take them out on Country and they help us also with the language”, says Sharon. “Most of us are still learning our language like the (bush) fruits and what we call them”.

Karajarri Rangers Julian Nagomarra & Kamahl Bangu practising traditional hunting on Sea Country. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.


In Development – a Sea Country IPA

The Karajarri people are currently developing their Sea Country IPA ‘Tukujana pa Karajarri Kura Jurrar’ which received federal funding in 2022. Tukujana pa Karajarri Kura Jurrar is an important dugong sanctuary and provides habitat for approximately 450,000 birds. Traditional Owners hope to establish reef, mangrove and seagrass monitoring programs, and right-way harvesting protocols for kuwi jurra jangka (meat from the sea).

“We’ve got dugongs, turtles, we see lots of dolphin too”, says Sharon. “It’s really good walking out on the reef. When I walk I feel more connected to my Country. I feel like old people are helping us along – we feed our families and keep it like that.”

It was during gill net surveys for culturally important salmon species that Karajarri Rangers realised the significance of the high abundance of critically endangered sawfish living in their waters. Working alongside scientists, Rangers are now contributing to vital scientific research and outcomes about this rare and endangered species.

Karrajarri Ranger Team at the Ranger Base, Bidyadanga (WA). Photo: Annette Ruzicka.


Karajarri Rangers

The Karajarri Ranger Program has been running for 18 years and is very successful. Based out of the Bidyadanga Community, which has the largest Indigenous population in WA, they have 14 Indigenous Rangers including both a men and women’s team. The daily work of Rangers across the IPA includes managing invasive species and fire, biodiversity surveys, cultural heritage site protection, education about traditional ecological knowledge, visitor management, regular coastal patrols and biosecurity work.

Karajarri Ranger Sharon Everett says that she’s learnt a lot from being a Ranger. She’s become more connected with herself, and it has helped her build stronger communication skills. For Sharon, being a ranger is about sharing and lending a hand and she’s proud of the ripple effect it’s having on her children, inspiring the next generation.

“I just love being on Country all the time, it makes me feel good. I’m very happy”, says Sharon. “My kids tell me ‘Mama I want to work for rangers when I grow up’.”

(L to R) Karajarri Women's Rangers Hayley Mulardy, Roxanne Possum, Sharon Everett & Juana Ejai. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.