The "Kimberley to Cape Initiative" in Northern Australia is working across one quarter of a billion hectares of arguably the largest ecologically intact areas of tropical savannas, rivers and shallow seas in the world. It offers a globally significant opportunity in tropical conservation connectivity. The project aims to support development and conservation that enhances natural and cultural values and strengthens communities. Its key strategy is to establish an interconnected network of land of diverse tenures. It includes and links landscapes of particularly high conservation value, e.g. the North Kimberley, Arnhem Land stone country, Gulf wetlands, east coast Cape York. It is being actively and effectively managed to enhance natural and cultural values and other ecosystem services. Such a network will directly serve the tourism, recreation, grazing, fishing and seafood industries, as well as emerging carbon and bioprospecting industries, and create local jobs and enterprises. It will contribute to Indigenous health and livelihoods through the provision of food, maintenance of countryside, spiritual wellbeing and ongoing employment in land management and other services. It will also provide mechanisms for resource users to gain market recognition for sustainability practices. The indirect and future options benefits are significant. The Kimberley to Cape Connections Initiative aims for much of this network to be made up of protected areas of IUCN Categories one to six. Such protected areas will enable governments, businesses and landholders developing Australia's north to maintain its globally significant natural and cultural values and strengthen communities across the region.
The vast majority of the region's 120 million hectares of tropical savannas remain uncleared. Nearly all the area's 65 rivers remain free-flowing. However biodiversity is declining and protected areas only cover around 13 percent of this outstanding region. Additionally, there are greater than 100 million hectares of shallow tropical seas, which area among the largest and least-disturbed in the world. Yet, the existing marine parks network is poorly developed and threatened. The region’s intact cultural values are also suffering from disconnections between people, country and economic disadvantages. Additionally, there has been a recent push to develop "the North" (Northern Australia), with some sectors seeing this landscape as the “next frontier.” There have been talks of “unleashing” and “unlocking” its development potential, without including considering the region's natural and cultural values. The Kimberley to Cape Initiative is working to turn this situation around before inappropriate development such as large-scale land clearing, large dams, polluting or poorly placed industry damages communities and biodiversity, and is impossible or expensive to reverse. The project is working to get development right and to protect the land for future generations. Developing a network of lands managed for biodiversity and cultural values could be a significant goal of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia White Paper.
The project is working with Indigenous, environmental, industry and research groups, among others, to: ( ) Identify shared stories about the future of Northern Australia, and to clarify common ground and align messages. (2) Develop an accord that includes shared principles regarding the desired outcomes of development across the North, and that includes commitments to social, cultural, environmental and economic outcomes. ( ) Encourage and support planning efforts to guide development and conservation. (4) Increase the number of jobs in land management and the effectiveness of this effort. (5) Promote the significance of the natural and cultural values of the North. (6) Establish an interconnected land network of diverse tenures. It should strive to include and link landscapes of particularly high conservation value, and to actively manage them to enhance natural and cultural values and other ecosystem services.
The project has learned that building relationships take time and must not be rushed. The relationship building process involves dedicated and careful engagement, patience, reflection, debate and, sometimes, conflict. It is critical to listen to people on the ground and respect their needs and aspirations, and to work to support local people living on country. It is important that the Kimberley to Cape Initiative is a supportive entity and is perceived as such. It strives not to and become an organisation that blocks or slows flows of resources or energy to groups on the ground. It is important that the Kimberley to Cape Initiative adds value to existing efforts and structures. It strives not to duplicate work, but rather to find its niche in amplifying, assisting and reinforcing successful efforts.
Finally, the project has learned that there is a still lot of work to do in communicating the value of protected areas, including their diversity in allowing for sustainable land use, and their benefits. The perception of protected areas “locking up country” is real. The project must demonstrate the positive role that collaboration on expanding protected areas can - and must - play in developing Northern Australia.
It is early days for the Kimberley to Cape Initiative, but strong foundations have been laid for working collaboratively towards the project goals. The Kimberley to Cape Initiative has been listening to organisations across the North, establishing a network, and identifying common ground around a shared future. It has coordinated and presented a joint submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry and responded to the government’s Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia. The submissions were endorsed by multiple sectors, including Indigenous, tourism, seafood, farming, recreation, natural resource management, research and environment. The project has noticed an encouraging change in governments’ language and aspirations for the North in recent releases due to these and similar multiple voices. Kimberley to Cape worked with these sectors to convene the Northern Australian Futures Roundtable, which attracted nearly 100 leaders from over 50 organisations from multiple sectors to identify key recommendations. The project has also facilitated productive conversations and increased communication and collaboration between diverse organisations, and has successfully aligned messages around what a successful future for the North might look like. It is now starting to work with organisations across the North to make this vision happen.