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Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy

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In 2013, Dr Kim Friedman (right) from Western Australian Parks and Wildlife, took on the leadership of the Marine Science Program and the node leadership of the Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI) Kimberley Marine Research Program. Here Dr Friedman maps out how the unique Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy will operate.
The Strategy underpins the development of marine and terrestrial parks in an effort to preserve the Kimberley. There are four new multiple-use marine parks in the Kimberley under development and these include Camden Sound, North Kimberley, Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach.
The marine parks stretch from south of the Kimberley all the way north to the border of the Northern Territory, protecting areas of significant natural beauty and cultural heritage.
The parks will be investigated for their key features (biological, physical, social) which will form the basis for their management.


The state government has set up the WAMSI which is a joint venture partnership with universities, commonwealth agencies and other agencies like Western Australia Parks and Wildlife. It has invested protected funds of $12 million and is seeking the expertise needed to map each park's key features. Personnel will come from partnership members which will be backed by funding from its own organisation, thereby boosting the money available to some $30 million.

Above: The Australian snubfin dolphin was only recognised as a distinct species from its southeast Asian relative – the Irrawaddy river dolphin, in 2005. © Kandy Curran.
The Montgomery Reef is included in the Camden Sound Marine Park. © Kandy Curran.
Every marine park in Western Australia comes with a management plan that articulates the types of assets that need to be looked after and how that is going to be done, along with the social and cultural values that need to be managed. It is the researchers who will provide the baseline data and advice on the steps needed to preserve the key features. To this end WAMSI is looking to increase the capacity for research in such remote locations. Whilst the Kimberley has a small population and its natural environment is still in relatively good condition, terrestrial fauna face significant and immediate threats from inappropriate fire regimes and grazing by introduced animals, resulting in soil and vegetation degradation, weed infestations and marked declines in native mammal populations.
The marine life at this stage faces fewer immediate threats, although with offshore mining and cruise vessel tourism increasing rapidly on the Kimberley coast, the gathering of baseline information is an imperative, as outlined in the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.

Creatures like whales, dolphins, dugongs and crocodiles need to be researched to find information about key habitats, migratory paths and current and future environmental pressures. The study on crocodiles, for instance, will be the first research done on that species in the last 30 years.
Left: Understanding the Kimberley’s marine ecosystems and wildlife is integral to the program. Crocodylus porosus © Kandy Curran.

Another aim of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy is to link land and marine parks and to build on existing shared ventures with traditional owners and elders like Aboriginal rangers. Each park will be co-managed by traditional owners (an Australian first) and will provide opportunities for training and employment. Recent talks in Kalumburu with traditional owners discussed ways to include local by activities like shadowing researchers as well as training.

The Kimberley has just won Lonely Planet’s Prestige Destination award because it has so many pristine environments like the 3½ thousand islands off its coast. Such places will benefit from the state government’s decision to research and develop management plans before the onset of environmental pressures, like mining, agriculture and tourism, become established.

Most of the marine parks are in remote locations. The exception is Roebuck Bay, lapping at the shores of the large population centre of Broome. With a deepwater port, Roebuck Bay has considerable pressures, particularly as offshore and onshore mining in the region rapidly expands.

Right: Dr Kim Friedman provided a presentation on the science supporting Kimberley marine parks for the Science on Broome Coast series put on by the Roebuck Bay Working Group and Yawuru Land and Sea Unit. © Kandy Curran

In the remote parks, there are few small vessels and all vessel traffic is considerably lower. Fortunately, the commercial and cruise vessels generally have high levels of governance and extensive knowledge of Kimberley waters that are mostly unchartered, including risks, dangers and tidal movements. It is hoped that any new ventures would benefit from such knowledge and expertise, thereby lessening risk.
Right: Cattle trucks at the busy Broome Port on Roebuck Bay. © Kandy Curran

Left: The award winning Roebuck Bay Working Group in Broome, along with Yawuru traditional owners lobbied for National Heritage listing and a Roebuck Bay marine park. © Kandy Curran
The plans for the Roebuck Bay Marine Park and adjoining Coastal Conservation Estate are being worked on by the Yawuru Park Council which includes traditional owners, Parks and Wildlife and the Broome Shire. The approach used is progressive, with a Yawuru Cultural Management Plan a key guiding document in the development of these plans.

Undertaking cultural planning at the outset reflects an approach that allows the plans to evolve ensuring that key cultural assets are protected. For Roebuck Bay this means researching seagrass and benthos habitats, migratory shorebirds, nearshore dolphins and mangrove systems and deciding how those habitats should be monitored over time with a focus on the condition of those assets. All of that knowledge allows adaptive management to be put into place and recognises that investment in science is a good basis for environmental management.
For Roebuck Bay, that is foresight for shore.

Dr Kim Friedman was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images from Kandy Curran. Summary text by Victor Barry, May 2014.

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A real pearler for marine research! Protecting the natural and cultural values of the Kimberley

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