What is an Indigenous Protected Area?
An Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is an area of land or sea cared for by traditional owners. Traditional owners enter a voluntary agreement with the Commonwealth Government to protect biodiversity—the animals, plants and other species that call the IPA home—and to conserve the area’s cultural resources, like sacred sites and rock art.
IPAs have become a key part of the National Reserve System: the network of protected areas—including National Parks—that stretches across Australia. IPAs now account for 44.6 per cent of the total area of our National Reserve System. Most IPAs occur on land, but some also extend into the sea.
The first IPA was declared at Nantawarrina in South Australia in 1998. There are now 78 dedicated IPAs, covering more than 74 million hectares. 15 are listed for development, with 2 having recently been declared in Western Australia. When these planned IPAs have been declared, the total Indigenous Protected Area network will cover an area larger than New South Wales.
Why do we need more Indigenous Protected Areas?
More than 20 per cent of Australia is owned or managed by traditional owners. Across Australia, more and more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are expressing an aspiration to protect the culture and wildlife on country through Indigenous Protected Areas.
But government funding doesn’t meet the demand from traditional owner groups, nor the level needed to protect the vast land and sea country of our continent.
Indigenous Protected Areas are recognised internationally as an effective, culturally appropriate and cost effective way of protecting country. Funding for this program should be grown and secured for the long term to ensure it remains an ongoing success.
What happens on an Indigenous Protected Area?
Operations on IPAs vary because when traditional owners enter into an IPA agreement with the Commonwealth Government, both parties negotiate and agree to an environmental and cultural plan specific to that country.
Work on IPAs typically includes clearing weeds, trapping feral animals, protecting rock art, working with researchers, managing burning regimes to avoid wildfires, and welcoming visitors. Across Australia, there are more than 2600 Indigenous ranger positions funded through the Working on Country program and through IPAs.
In tackling these issues, Indigenous owners often work alongside scientists and other land managers. In this way, IPAs bring together Indigenous ecological knowledge and modern science for the most effective land and sea management.
Where are Indigenous Protected Areas?
From the Kimberley in West Australia to east coast of Tasmania, there are IPAs all around Australia.
The map below and this interactive map shows the location of IPAs and Indigenous ranger groups in Australia. The map below shows the location and land areas of IPAs around Australia.