The WA government has announced three new marine parks, covering thousands of kilometers of the Kimberley coastline in Western Australia’s far north.
- The marine parks will cover more than 600,000 hectares of the Buccaneer Archipelago
- The parks have been jointly designed by the area’s traditional owners
- The state government wants to create 5 million hectares of new conservation estates in total
Formally unveiled this morning, the Bardi Jawi Garra, Mayala and Maiyalam Marine Parks cover more than 600,000 hectares of the Buccaneer Archipelago.
In a first for Western Australia, the parks have been co-designed and will be jointly managed by the area’s Bardi Jawi, Mayala and Dambeemangarddee traditional owners.
The new parks cover waters surrounding the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, land and coastline to the north of Derby, and the thousands of islands that make up the Buccaneer Archipelago.
Through amalgamations with existing parks, the new reserve includes high-profile Kimberley locations such as Horizontal Falls and Yaloon on the shore of Cone Bay.
Speaking at this morning’s announcement in Broome, Bardi Jawi traditional owner Kevin George said the formal recognition was a significant step forward.
“We’ve got a duty of care to the environment, and a duty of care to our people,” he said.
“It’s very much important to our people to be part and parcel of designing all of this … and we’re pretty happy with the process.”
Dambimangari Corporation director Leah Umbagi said the park was an important recognition of her people’s connection with the sea.
“By doing this in collaboration with the other groups … I think coming forward as a group as the saltwater people it’s a big [step] forward,” she said.
Mayala Inninalang Aboriginal Corporation chair Rowena Mouda said the cultural health of the coastline was imperative to the health of traditional owners.
“The cultural belonging, the cultural maintenance and preservation is so important. If we lose sight of that, then we’ve lost sight of our identity of who we are,” she said.
“With this process, there have been families that have returned to the country for the first time.
“There’ve been families that have returned after many years and been able to plant their feet on that country, and we’ve seen healing take place with people who have not gone back to country since they were there as a child.
“There’s a healing in oneself, your body, your spirit, your mind that comes into play, and it’s hard to explain when you don’t have that belonging.”
Parks’ troubled birth
While the mood at today’s announcement was celebratory, the planning process for the marine parks had been divisive.
Draft plans to ban and restrict recreational fishing from nearly 40 per cent of the park were met with a tense reaction from local and statewide fishing groups, who argued they had been left out of the consultation process.
The government returned to the drawing board to consider their concerns, which ended in concessions including access to Dam Creek, the Graveyard, Kimbolton Creek, Strickland Bay, and areas of reef near the Cone Bay Barramundi Farm.
Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland says the government needed to learn lessons from the process.
“We were really disappointed with the original draft plan. The government essentially railroaded the process and fishers were excluded from putting in comment,” Dr Rowland said.
“We’re pleased fishers got to sit down with traditional owners following the draft plans, and we’ve now, as of today, seen a much better outcome for fishing.”
But the conservation group Environs Kimberley dismissed concerns from the recreational fishers’ lobby about access restrictions.
“We’ve got a very balanced marine park,” Environs director Martin Prichard said.
“More than half of it is open to recreational fishers.”
Mr Pritchard said the co-design process involving traditional owners was a “shining light” for the rest of Australia when it came to designing conservation areas with Indigenous people.
“This is an outstanding win for conservation in the Kimberley and conservation in Australia,” he said.
“The thousand islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago have coral reef systems, seagrass beds, really productive river mouths, very important cultural areas.”
Mr Pritchard said the group was now lobbying for the state government to extend protections to more areas of the Kimberley coast.
“What we’ve got left now is an opportunity for the McGowan government to actually put the whole of the Kimberley coast in a marine park,” he said.
“What we would have would be the Great Kimberley Marine Park to rival the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”
One million hectares protected
Environment Minister Reece Whitby said he understood the concerns of fishing groups but said he made no apologies for the government’s commitment to the co-design process.
“All stakeholders are involved, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“The traditional owners have said that they’ve found time to listen to the commercial fishers, the recreational fishers, and the other users of this country.
“It needs to be managed in a way that everyone’s interests are taken note of. There will be areas that are set aside in terms of zones to protect conservation values and Aboriginal heritage values.
“But there are zones also that acknowledge that this is about recreation, it’s about tourism, it’s about commercial businesses.
“My experience with commercial operators is they actually want this environment protected for the long term so that their industry is sustainable — the best way to do that is with the marine park where the conservation estate is recognized and protected.”
As part of the government’s plan, a sector support package will be provided to support commercial, charter, and recreational fishers operating in the park and impacted by its boundaries.
“[The package] will be developed with the community to ensure the continuation of sustainable fisheries, high-quality fishing experiences, and support for local industries,” Fisheries Minister Don Punch said.
The creation of the parks also marks a key milestone for the McGowan government, with more than 1 million hectares of new conservation estate established since it took office in 2017.
The government has set a target of 5 million hectares in total.
The three marine parks’ borders take effect on July 1, 2023.