The Australian monsoonal tropics: An opportunity to protect unique biodiversity and secure benefits for Aboriginal communities

C. Moritz, E. J. Ens, S. Potter, R. A. Catullo

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    39 Citations (Scopus)


    The Australian monsoonal tropics region contains one of the planet's largest, relatively intact tropical savannas and has been continually occupied by humans for at least 50,000 years. The region, spanning Cape York Peninsula, the Top End and the Kimberley of northern Australia has long been known to host high biodiversity, but only now is the true extent of locally unique (endemic) species and genetic diversity within each of these areas becoming apparent. Though some critical regions have been included in the national reserve system, including the iconic Kakadu National Park, the ecological and evolutionary dynamics are such that large interconnected swathes of the region need to be actively managed to sustain this unique diversity in the face of escalating anthropogenic impacts and species decline. The growth in Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous-owned land where Traditional Owners aspire to "care for their Country" offers an opportunity to contribute to the broader conservation effort in the region. The conservation imperative is also entwined with Aboriginal cultural aspirations. Over the last few decades there has been a resurgence of effort by Aboriginal landowners to maintain their cultural responsibilities and knowledge, pursue socio-economic development opportunities, as well as to protect the bio-cultural values of their ancestral country. In the Australian monsoonal tropics, over 40% of the landscape is under some form of Aboriginal ownership or control and emerging initiatives such as the Indigenous Protected Area programme, representing a partnership of community, government and sometimes NGOs offer one (though not the only) constructive way forward. As the biological uniqueness of the landscape is uncovered, this should bolster the perceived biodiversity value and encourage further investment in protecting it, especially through programmes that promote engagement with, and employment of, Aboriginal communities. For this to be sustainable, the discovery and management of the region's biodiversity needs to be driven increasingly by Aboriginal land owners with clear cultural and community, as well as biodiversity, benefits. This will take time, innovation and sustained cross-cultural engagement, but the potential long-term benefits are profound.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)343-355
    Number of pages13
    JournalPacific Conservation Biology
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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