Nyikina Mangala Country
Boab Tree, East Kimberley Nyikina Mangala Country © Mike Heiner/TNC

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New Healthy Country Plan protects the Kimberley’s Fitzroy River region

Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation (WAC), based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, has launched a new plan to protect the Fitzroy River. The Walalakoo Healthy Country Plan sets out strategies for the management of the Nyikina Mangala native title area, which includes the National Heritage listed Fitzroy River and its tributaries. The plan was developed by Nyikina and Mangala Traditional Owners, with the support of The Nature Conservancy.

Aside from its cultural values listed on the National Heritage Register, the Fitzroy River is home to many threatened species. The mighty Mardoowarra (Fitzroy River) is one of the few places left in northern Australia where you find the endangered Northern River Shark and three species of freshwater sawfish, all listed as vulnerable.

Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation’s CEO Damien Parriman, says there are increasing pressures on Nyikina Mangala country, in particular the Fitzroy River. “Mardoowarra is the lifeblood of Nyikina Mangala people. Traditional Owners are already seeing impact to country from activities which include mining, exploration, uncontrolled visitor management and irrigated agriculture. Nyikina and Mangala people are concerned about the real possibility of a radical change to the river. The Healthy Country Plan provides a clear illustration that the river is part of a large ecosystem in which every component has its role”, Mr Parriman says.

Launch - art presentation to TNC
Walalakoo Healthy Country Plan Linda Nardea (artist, director and cultural advisor for Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation) presents art to Dr James Fitzsimons and David Hinchley (TNC) © James Fitzsimons

The prospect of large-scale irrigated agriculture represents a significant potential increase of consumptive water use, may require dams, diversions and off-stream storage facilities. The high variability of water in the river means that development proposals may exceed the water flow in dry years which can have a devastating effect on the plants and animals.

Mr Parriman says Nyikina and Mangala people have already agreed on a buffer zone around the river, which must be respected, and Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation expects that nearby development proposals address the cumulative impact of activities on the entire catchment.

The Healthy Country Plan will assist the Nyikina Mangala Rangers to implement land management practices that are guided by both traditional ecological knowledge and Western scientific knowledge.

“We’re grateful for the support of a range of partner organisations, including The Nature Conservancy, who have dedicated a considerable amount of time and funds to ensure the development of the plan and its launch is a success,” Mr Parriman says.

The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Conservation, Dr James Fitzsimons, says the plan and the process of creating it are important because they put Traditional Owners at the forefront of making decisions about the management of their own country.  “Healthy Country Plans are powerful tools in providing guidance for the sustainable management of country for people and nature”, he said. “Nyikina Mangala country is both diverse and ecologically very significant, containing three species of sawfish, rock-wallabies and bilbies, amongst many other species. We’re proud to be assisting the Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owners formulate this plan”.

makes a guest appearance at the Walalakoo HCP launch
Black-headed Python makes a guest appearance at the Walalakoo HCP launch © James Fitzsimons

The Walalakoo Healthy Country Plan was launched at Jarlmadangah Community, south-east of Derby on the May 23, 2017. The launch was supported by funding from the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program, which is in turn supported by Royalties for Regions.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organisation dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we focus on getting things done efficiently and with the greatest positive impact for conservation. We’re a trusted organisation working in 72 countries on innovative solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We’re tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Australia, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.