A guide to Indigenous management and governance of Australian coastal waters

Understanding the management and governance of Australia’s vast coastline can be complex. International, Commonwealth, State and Indigenous entities all have various roles and powers to promote the health and integrity of Australia’s marine environments.

[Quick links: Maps to help you get started - Links to Indigenous Sea country Management Plans]

For Indigenous Australians, the coastlines where they live not only play a significant role in their daily lives by providing natural resources, but are also deeply embedded in their social, cultural and spiritual values. Indigenous Australians have been skilfully managing their “Sea country” for thousands of years. However, modern day coastal Australia is facing rapidly increasing pressures from many new sources. Population growth, recreational and commercial fishing, industry and the rapid development of coastal areas are all examples.

In response to today’s modern day challenges, many Indigenous groups have developed their own management goals and aspirations, many of which are synthesised in Healthy Country (see an example) and Indigenous Protected Area Management Plans (IPAMPs - see an example). One goal within most of these plans is to form strategic alliances and partnerships with other marine science and management agencies, a goal that provides everyone with the opportunity to work together for the common good. There is a shared realisation that the integration of traditional knowledge and western science provides a potent way in which to better understand our coastline ecosystems and meet these new challenges.

But how do you go about conducting science in indigenous Sea country? Who lives where? What is the status of governance? Who manages what?


Maps to help you get started...

To address this, below we provide links to a set of interactive maps which offer a starting point to guide scientists, managers, students and the general public to identify indigenous Sea country areas. These maps provide basic but important information and are meant to be a first step in identifying the legal framework and governance of traditional indigenous Sea country. Depending on the map, by zooming in on your geographic area of interest, information which identifies traditional ownership, representative bodies, legal status, land-use agreements, landmarks, correct names and GPS locations are all available to guide you so that you can plan ahead, make contact with the correct organisation or simply learn more about indigenous Australia. Click on each subheading below to access the relevant map.


Where does native title exist in Australia?

Native title is the recognition in Australian law that some Indigenous people continue to hold rights to their land and waters. It may include the right to possess and occupy an area to the exclusion of all others, or it may be a set of non-exclusive rights. There can be no native title rights to minerals, gas or petroleum recognised under Australian law. In tidal and sea areas, only non-exclusive native title can be recognised.


Where are Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) in Australia?

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) in Australia are voluntarily dedicated by Indigenous groups on Indigenous owned or managed land or sea country. They are recognised by the Australian Government as an important part of the National Reserve System, protecting the nation's biodiversity for the benefit of all Australians. There are currently over 70 dedicated IPAs across 65 million hectares accounting for more than 40% of the National Reserve System's total area.


Where do Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA) exist across Australia?

An Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) is an agreement about the use and management of land and waters made between people who hold, or may hold, native title in the area, and other people, organisations or governments. To be an ILUA, an agreement must meet with the requirements of the Native Title Act 1993.


Where do Representative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Body (RATSIB) areas exist across Australia?

The National Native Title Tribunal was established by the Native Title Act 1993 to make decisions, conduct inquiries, reviews and mediations, and assist various parties with native title applications, and Indigenous land use agreements (‘ILUAs’). Australia is split into representative areas to facilitiate this.


What are the Preferred and Alternate names for indigenous locations where Australian Government programs and services have been, are being, or may be provided?

The Australian Government developed its Indigenous Programs & Policy Locations (AGIL) dataset as an authoritative source of indigenous location names across Australia. It is designed to support the accurate positioning, consistent reporting, and effective delivery of Australian Government programs and services to indigenous locations. The dataset contains Preferred and Alternate names for indigenous locations where Australian Government programs and services have been, are being, or may be provided. This dataset is NOT a complete listing of all locations at which indigenous people reside. Town and city names are not included in the dataset.


Where established indigenous Sea country Management Plans are in place (view a map), you can view them by clicking on their names in the tables below. A separate table is provided for Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Western Australia (view a map)

Name of plan Docment type Time span Source agency
Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park State management plan 2014-2024 DPaW, Nyangumarta Rangers
Karajarri Healthy Country Plan 2013-2023 Indigenous Healthy Country Plan 2013-2023 Karajarri Traditional Lands Association
Yawuru Nagulagun / Roebuck Bay Marine Park Joint Management Plan n/a DPaW & Yawuru
Bardi-Jawi Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan Indigenous Healthy Country Plan 2013-2023 Bardi and Jawi Rangers
Dambimangari Healthy Country Plan 2012-2022 Indigenous Healthy Country Plan 2012-2022 DPaW & Dambimangari
Lalang / Garram / Camden Sound Marine Park Management Plan 73 2013-2023 Joint Management Plan 2013-2023 DPaWDambimangari & Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation 
Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area: Wundaagu (saltwater) Indicative Plan of Management 2016-2020 Indigenous Healthy Country Plan 2016-2020 Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation
Wunanbal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan Indigenous Healthy Country Plan n/a Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation
Balanggarra Healthy Country Plan 2012-2022 Indigenous Health Country Plan 2012-2022 Balanggarra Rangers
Walalakoo Healthy Country Plan 2017-2027  Indigenous Health Country Plan 2017-2027 Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation, Nyikina Mangala Rangers
Nyul Nyul Freshwater Management and Monitoring Plan Management and Monitoring Plan n/a Nyul Nyul Rangers


Northern Territory (view a map)

Name of plan Docment type Time span Source agency
Anindilyakwa Indigenous Protected Area Plan of Management 2016 Indigenous Management Plan 2016-2026

Anindilyakwa Land Council

Dhimurra Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan 2015-2022 Indigenous Management Plan 2015-2022 Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation
Yirralka Rangers Business Plan 2013-2016 Indigenous strategic business plan 2013-2016 Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corp
ALC 15 year Strategic Plan Indigenous Strategic plan 2012-2027 Anindilyakwa Land Council
Yugul Mangi Land and Sea Management Corporation Indigenous Information n/a ANU & Yugul Mangi Sea Management Corp
Barni-Wardimantha Awara Yanyuwa Sea Country Plan Indigenous Management Plan 2007 Yanyuwa
South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area Plan of Management 2016-2021 Indigenous Management Plan 2016-2021 Yugul Mangi & Numbulwar Numburindi Rangers
Djelk Healthy Country Plan 2015-2025 Indigenous Management Plan 2015-2025 Djelk Rangers & Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation
Marthakal Indigenous Protected Area Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement Plan Indigenous Management Plan 2011-2016 Marthakal IPA & Gumurr Marthakal Rangers


Queensland (view a map)

Name of plan Docment type Time span Source agency
Nijinda Durlga (Gangalidda) Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan Indigenous Management Plan n/a Gangalidda & Gangalidda-Garawa Rangers
Thuwathu/Bujimulla Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan Indigenous Management Plan Varies Lardil, Yangkal, Kaiadilt & Gangalidda
Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Country CNRM Plan 2010-2015 Indigenous Management Plan 2010-2015 Kuuk Thaayorre & Wik Mungkan
Eastern Kuku Yalanji Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan Stage 2 - Jalunjii-Warra Land and Sea Country Indigenous Management Plan 2012+ Yalanji, Kuku & Jabalbina Yalanii Aboriginal Corporation
Mandingalbay Yidinji IPA Planning Fact sheet n/a Mandingalbay Yidinji & Djunbunji Limited
Strategic Plan for Mandingalbay Yidinji Country Indigenous Strategic Plan 2009+ Mandingalbay Yidinji & Djunbunji Limited
Gunggandji Land and Sea Country Plan Indigenous Strategic Plan 2013+ Gunggandji
Girringun Region Indigenous Protected Areas Management Plan 2013-2023 Indigenous Management Plan 2013-2023 Girringun
Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural and Natural Resource Management Plan Indigenous Management Plan 2005+


Warul Kawa IPA Fact Sheet Fact Sheet Information n/a Torres Strait Regional Authority
Pulu Indigenous Protected Area Plan of Management Indigenous Management Plan 2009 Pulu Indigenous Protected Area and Mabuygiw Rangers



Please read, cite and use these documents responsibly by referring to any special requirements outlined. Note that this is a rapidly evolving area with many new plans to be finalised and published shortly (here is an example). It is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the most up to date information.