Terrestrial protected coastal areas

In the lengthy history of dedication of terrestrial reserves in Australia, it is clear that the early phase was one of securing areas of great natural beauty. Some notable early examples were at the coast; for example, Royal National Park south of Sydney and Flinders Chase on Kangaroo Island were dedicated in the latter part of the 19th century.

Later the emphasis in securing parks was the conservation of significant or remnant ecosystems. It was the drive to conserve representative portions of significant ecosystems across the whole continent that led to the establishment of 1BRA, the Interim Bioregionalisation of Australia.

Figure 4.15 shows the proportions of 1BRA coastal regions that are protected; only those regions which are predominantly coastal are shown. While the proportion of protected area varies greatly, the average for all Australia is 7.6%. Examination of the coastal figures shows they vary as a group only slightly from this (average 12%), nor is there any clear continent-wide pattern, as is the case with marine protected areas.

Protected areas form a significant proportion of the coastal lands of Australia, and the various states' Parks and Wildlife agencies are important coastal managers. A recent check of the mapped data by DEHAA South Australia (T. Bond, pers comm.) showed the results listed in table 4.11.

Figure 4.15 The interim marine and central regionalisation of Australia divides coastal waters into 60 bioregions, in an attempt to establish a basis for a representative system of marine protected areas

The interim marine and central regionalisation of Australia divides coastal waters into 60 bioregions, in an attempt to establish a basis for a representative system of marine protected areas

Table 4.11 South Australian coastal parks

SA Coastline

Length of SA coastline

5060 km

Length of SA coastline in or adjacent to parks

1711 km

Percentage of SA coastline in or adjacent to parks


SA mainland coast

Length of mainland coastline

3817 km

Length of mainland coastline in or adjacent to parks

1101 km

Percentage of mainland coastline in or adjacent to parks


SA island coast//ne

Length of island coastline

1244 km

Length of island coastline in or adjacent to parks

611 km

Percentage of island coastline in or adjacent to parks


Table 4.11 South Australian coastal parks (continued)

Kangaroo Island coastline

Length of KI coastline

483 km

Length of KI coastline in or adjacent to parks

183 km

Percentage of KI coastline in or adjacent to parks


Other island coastline

Length of non-KI island coastline


Length of non-KI Island coastline In or adjacent to parks

428 km

Percentage of non-KI island coastline in or adjacent to parks


Note: These data are measured at HWM as shown on the 1:100 000 map series, where the HWM is within or adjacent to parks. The shoreline lengths are considerably longer than the CSIRO coastal inventory, because of differences in methodology.

Box 4.13 Case Study – Small offshore islands: special refuges

There are numerous small offshore islands around the Australian coast. These are a special form of wilderness: their isolation reducing human influence and often freeing them from exotic predators, such as cats and foxes. These islands were connected to the mainland around 20 000 years BP, at the time of the last Pleistocene glacial low sea level. As the sea level rose, the islands were separated, remaining as small arks for plants and animals, to follow special voyages of evolution.

The former linking of many islands to the mainland is recorded in Aboriginal tradition; for example the dreamtime hero of the Ramindjeri people, Ngurunderi, pursued his two unfaithful wives down the Murray River and caught up with them as they walked through the shallows to Kangaroo Island.

Some islands were invaded early by Europeans – sealers, whalers and settlers-usually to be abandoned. Where exotic plants and animals have been introduced, they have been devastating for islands. For example, on the Houtman Albrolhos Islands, Western Australia, fishing settlements and guano mining introduced rats, cats, rabbits and mice, leading to the extinction of sea lion and seabird colonies from the islands.

Today small offshore islands provide a home or vital stopping place for many animals; they are critical to nature conservation. They are major breeding grounds for seabirds turtles and seals, with some species only breeding on islands. They act as refuges for rare and endangered species:

• Ten species of terrestrial mammals either only occur on islands, or the last secure populations are found there, for example Tammar Wallaby, Eastern Barred Bandicoot

Figure 4.16 Nuyts Archipelago. These islands have become cut off from the mainland as the sea rose at the end of the postglacial marine transgression. They form important refuges for plants and animals

Nuyts Archipelago. These islands have become cut off from the mainland as the sea rose at the end of the postglacial marine transgression. They form important refuges for plants and animals

• Several bird and other species are only found on islands, for example Gould's Petrel, Lesser Noddy, Rufous Hare-wallaby

• The islands of the Bass Strait support an estimated 18 million Short-tailed Shearwaters.

As important habitat, many islands have protected area status within the parks systems of the states, but their management has many problems. Islands provide a range of unique residential, commercial, tourism, scientific, and heritage opportunities. Island managers face a range of threats to conservation values:

• Some islands with conservation value do not have protected area status; other, protected islands, do not have management plans

• Islands attract tourist groups, cruising yachts, dive groups, fishers. Disturbance, trampling, exotic plants and animals, wastes and litter, and the use of vegetation as fuel result

• There are particular problems associated with fire on islands: often fires are undetected, or it is impracticable to put them out

• Island management is expensive: monitoring and good communication with user groups are always essential elements.

Box 4.14 Case Study: Across land and water-Aboriginal management on the Cobourg Peninsula,

Northern Territory

Almost the most northerly part of the Australian landmass, the Cobourg Peninsula is tenuously linked to the mainland by a narrow neck of land. Its deeply indented coastline is highly varied, with beaches, lagoons, dunes, plains estuaries and mangroves. The traditional owners acquired European title to the area under the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land and Sanctuary Act 1981. Under this arrangement the land was leased back to the Northern Territory Conservation Commission (now the Parks and Wildlife Commission) for management as a national park – now called Garig Gunak Barlu National Park which is controlled by a board with an Aboriginal majority. The duties of the Garig Gunak Barlu Park Board are to:

• prepare a management plan

• protect and enforce the rights of the traditional owners

• determine rights of access to places

• protect spiritual sites

• carry out the management plan.

Thus Aboriginal involvement in the management of the area is legislated. The process attempts to address Aboriginal needs for sustenance from the land and to recognise the rights and responsibilities involved in the spiritual significance of the lands.

The Commission prepared a management plan involving considerable public consultation, but the language and length of the plan has proved baffling to the owners. In an operational sense, Aboriginal involvement has been slow.

Incorporated within Garig Gunak Barlu is the previously named Cobourg Marine Park, the first marine park to be jointly managed by the traditional owners and a government agency. Its controlling body is the Gurig National Park board of management, and day-to-day management is by the Parks and Wildlife Commission. The park consists of 229 000 ha. of shallow coastal waters and islands, with extensive seagrass beds, turtle and Dugong habitats.

The context of these arrangements is important. In a Territory-wide survey, Ganter (1996) stated:

Aboriginal land comprises 84% of the Northern Territory coastline ... In Aboriginal culture the interdependence of marine and coastal environments is expressed by the absence of jurisdictional boundaries between land and sea. For coastal 'saltwater' people, the legal boundary between land and sea is meaningless in that it fails to recognise the importance of the intertidal zone as the basic source of their subsistence economy, nor to recognise their extensive spiritual responsibilities in relation to site and country

While ownership under Northern Territory law finishes at the low water mark, Aboriginal concerns ran well beyond this point. For traditional owners there are the possibilities of native title claims over the sea or application for sea closure under the Aboriginal Land Act 1978 (see, for example, Kearney 1988). Both these processes are long, costly and uncertain. For Northern Territory fishers also, uncertainty is a frustration.

Both in the protected area situation, and generally along the Territory coastline, successful coastal management depends upon good cooperation between Aboriginal owners, government agencies and the rest of the community.

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