Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been managing land and sea country for over 65,000 years.
The Australian Government and First Nations groups co-designed the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) program in 1997.
Indigenous Protected Areas are areas of land and sea Country managed by First Nations people to protect and conserve biodiversity and cultural values, in line with Traditional Owner objectives.
The IPA program supports First Nations communities to voluntarily dedicate and manage their land as protected areas.
The IPA program will continue to contribute to the Commonwealth’s efforts to strengthen outcomes for First Nations people through the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
The IPA program covers:
- 82 dedicated IPAs managed by First Nations people
- 87 million hectares of land—more than 50% of Australia’s National Reserve System
- 5 million hectares of sea.
An expanding IPA estate
The Australian Government has committed $231.5 million to expand and improve the IPA program. The funding will be delivered over 5 years from 1 July 2023.
The increased funding will:
- support 82 dedicated IPA projects
- support 28 Traditional Owner consultation projects to develop management plans for proposed IPAs
- establish 10 new IPAs and expand existing dedicated IPAs.
An expanded IPA program will also contribute to meeting Australia’s international obligations.
- contributing to the 30 by 30 target under the Convention on Biological Diversity
- supporting First Nations people’s right to self-determination under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
How IPAs work
The IPA program supports First Nations people to lead biodiversity conservation work on their traditional land and sea Country.
Participation in the IPA Program is voluntary. IPAs don’t change ownership or control of land.
The program supports First Nations communities or land-holding groups to take a staged approach to considering, declaring and managing IPAs.
Management plans are developed to protect natural and cultural values, applying First Nations’ ecological knowledge alongside western science.
Most IPAs are dedicated under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Categories V and VI. These categories promote a balance between conservation and other sustainable uses.
This approach delivers social, cultural and economic benefits for local First Nations communities.
IPAs safeguard biodiversity
Many IPAs include habitats of threatened species and ecological communities.
Indigenous rangers’ management actions on IPAs often includes:
- threatened species monitoring and protection
- habitat restoration
- biodiversity surveys
- marine debris monitoring and removal
- weed and pest animal management
- ‘right-way’ fire management
- tourism and visitor management
- cultural site management.
The State of Environment Report 2021 emphasises that the IPA program expansion has contributed greatly to Australia’s world-class protected-areas network. IPAs are making a measurable difference to the protection of biodiversity across Australia.
For example, IPAs are helping to:
- prevent wildlife extinctions
- control wildfire
- limit the impact of feral animals and invasive weeds.
Remote Indigenous communities are amongst the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The IPA program provides an avenue for building resilience to climate change through:
- strengthening Indigenous governance
- two-way knowledge sharing
- improving adaptive capacity.
Case study: saving Australia’s rarest bird
On the Ngururrpa IPA, Indigenous rangers discovered a population of night parrots. Night parrots are one of Australia’s rarest birds.
The Ngururrpa and Kiwirrkurra Ranger teams jointly conducted night-parrot surveys in the southern part of this IPA. This night-parrot population is thought to be the largest, and probably most dense.
To help protect these birds, Indigenous rangers are increasing their pest-animal and fire management.
Economic and community outcomes
For First Nations communities, IPAs deliver holistic environmental, cultural, social, health and wellbeing and economic benefits.
These outcomes also benefit the wider Australian community.
IPA program participants report benefits of empowerment, cultural connection and wellbeing, as well as broader socio-economic benefits for local communities.
IPAs provide employment, education and training opportunities for First Nations people in remote areas. For every dollar invested in Indigenous Rangers, up to a 3-to-1 return on investment is generated (Social Ventures Australia, 2016).
In 2021-2022, around 754 First Nations people and 361 women were employed under the IPA Program. The jobs included full-time, part-time and casual positions.
Many IPAs have research and conservation partnerships with:
- conservation organisations
- the private sector
- government agencies.
IPA management plans encourage tourism, where appropriate. This gives all Australians the opportunity to learn about biodiversity and First Nations cultures.
Learn more about Indigenous Protected Areas
- Indigenous Protected Areas - DCCEEW
- Indigenous Protected Areas- National Indigenous Australians Agency (niaa.gov.au)