Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas: growing Australia’s marine protected area estate through Indigenous-led collaborative governance of coastal and marine estates

Dr Margaret Ayre1, Dr Dermot Symth2, Dr Jackie Gould3

1The University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2Smyth & Bardht Consultants, Atherton, Australia, 3Charles Darwin University, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Darwin, Australia


This presentation explores a unique and effective form of collaborative governance for marine and coastal conservation that empowers Indigenous communities, governments, industries and communities alike to work together to achieve social, cultural and ecological sustainability goals. This collaborative governance approach  has emerged in the context of the creation of Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas (SC IPAs) over the past decade in Australia by Indigenous communities exercising their stewardship of marine/coastal areas. In this presentation, we identify the governance attributes of SC IPAs through case studies to show how these align with international ‘good governance’ principles for management of complex socio-cultural-ecological systems. These attributes include: Indigenous leadership and empowerment; a focus on Indigenous law and governance as the basis for collaboration; the flexibility to account for different legal regimes and tenures; the inclusion of other stakeholders in productive partnerships; and, the recognition of ‘sea country’ as the key spatial extent of decision making and management action.   We argue that SC IPAs represent an effective form of governance for marine/coastal areas and should be widely recognised by marine policy makers and managers for their contribution to the management of Australia’s marine estate.


Margaret Ayre has worked for over 20 years in natural resource management, education and rural and agricultural development as an applied social scientist. She has also worked as a Senior Policy Officer with the Australian Government (National Oceans Office) where she was project manager of an innovation program of sea country planning which aimed to support Indigenous owners and managers of marine and coastal estates to develop their own integrated planning frameowrks for these estates.