Building Indigenous livelihood and co-management opportunities in the Northern GBR – ecosystem services and conservation governance for water quality

Marcus Barber
Led by: Dr Marcus Barber, CSIRO


Project Summary

This project supports Indigenous co-management and livelihoods by scoping and developing culturally-appropriate ecosystem services (ES) products focused on water quality. Local and regional Indigenous development agencies in CYP will collaborate with researchers with expertise in Indigenous water, co-benefits, ES, wetland ecology, and governance issues. The project will: i) evaluate international examples of nutrient offsets and watershed ES; ii) scope investor demand and develop innovative water quality ES products suitable for Northern GBR geographic, demographic, and market conditions; and iii) improve wetland protection, comanagement, business, and governance capability. Key project objectives are to leverage existing ES-based livelihood opportunities and torealize social co-benefits.


Project Publications
Final Report
Interim Report
Interim Report
Journal Article


Project Video


Problem Statements


Water-quality focused ES products and associated markets have significant international precedents, where they often known as watershed ES and/or nutrient offsets. However the use and application of these markets and products in Australia remains under-developed. Eastern Cape York Peninsula (CYP) and the associated Northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) represent a crucial opportunity for further water-quality focused ES development in ways that can enhance Indigenous co-management capability and associated conservation-based livelihoods. The area represents a nationally-significant confluence of conservation manager and ES investor interest in water quality associated with the GBR, and growing Indigenous control over the terrestrial drivers of key nutrient inputs due to ongoing land tenure changes on CYP. It is an ideal location for investigating the valuation of watershed ES and nutrient offsets to support conservation-based Indigenous livelihoods and to thereby highlight the potential ES tradeoffs involved in other forms of development on the Cape.

Key risks to landscape conservation and associated water quality in the Eastern CYP arise from feral animal damage, overgrazing, and inappropriate fire regimes. An ongoing partnership between CSIRO researchers and Traditional Owners from Kalan Enterprises is developing appropriate management responses, but key issues remain poorly understood and resources for investigation and subsequent management action are constrained. Actions undertaken to address biodiversity, carbon, and threatened or feral species priorities may have important water quality outcomes. Major water quality priorities have not yet been translated into ES markets and products. Further development of this additional area of ES can enhance the long term sustainable resourcing of management, associated conservation-based livelihoods, and social co-benefits.

How Research Addresses Problem

This project will:

  • continue and widen an ongoing collaboration between researchers, regional governance agencies, and Traditional Owners
  • directly address issues of wetland repair and the management of key species and habitats
  • further knowledge and understanding of collaborative co-management responses to key drivers of water quality inputs to the northern GBR
  • draw on national and international examples of watershed ES and nutrient offsets to support the generation of fit-for-purpose ES products and services suitable for Indigenous management contexts
  • ensure governance, policy, livelihood, social co-benefit and regional business development expertise informs the design of new management protocols and ES products and services

The integral role of the Indigenous partners in the project means that Indigenous participation
is a key facet and that Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous citizen science will play a crucial
role in informing project science and management decisions.

Alignment with NESP Research Priorities

P7. Supporting traditional co-management – building capacity of Indigenous Rangers by linking with scientists/managers for estuarine/wetland repair, key species management, comanagement/planning, identifying key heritage sites.

P1. Reducing water quality impacts: identify and prioritise practical management actions capable of protecting and improving water quality in the Great Barrier Reef region. Subpriorities of particular importance to this project include:

e) New methods for encouraging behaviour/practice change/improving compliance with Best Management Practice.

f) Compare the ability of different social and/or economic levers to encourage practice change in different contexts

Review policy and regulatory instruments to assess their effectiveness and appropriateness in promoting improved land and water management.


Project Keywords

Indigenous livelihoods; Wetland co-management; Watershed ecosystem services; Nutrient offsets; Co-benefits.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through CSIRO, Kalan Enterprises, JCU, Cape York Partnership and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.


Project Map

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Markers are not an exact position of where the research is taking place, they are only to be used as a guide to the general area in which it is being carried out.