at dusk
Martu country at dusk © Dave Wells

Land & Water Stories

Martu Living Deserts

Our past work with Martu Traditional Owners in the Western Desert helped them care for their country

Martu country in the Western Desert is a place of global conservation significance, rich in biodiversity and cultural value. Spanning an area twice the size of Tasmania, Martu Country includes parts of the Great Sandy, Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts.

Martu people have maintained a strong physical and cultural connection to their Country for thousands of years right through to the present day. While they have the knowledge and skills to look after country, they lacked support to carry out this important work in their communities. That’s why The Nature Conservancy working in partnership with Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (representing Martu interests) and BHP, formed the Martu Living Deserts (Warrarnpa Kana) Project in 2011. Over the years since then the project assisted Martu people continue their remarkable connection to Country combining modern science with Indigenous ecological knowledge.

with Warru (Black-flanked Rock-wallaby) joey
Martu ranger with Warru (Black-flanked Rock-wallaby) joey © Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa

The project supported Martu ranger teams:

  • Manage feral herbivores and predators.
  • Conduct cool season burns that are smaller and less intense than hot summer wild fires and result in a more diverse range of habitats for wildlife.
  • Clean waterholes.
  • Protect threatened species like rock-wallabies.
  • Engage with tourists at major camping sites along the Canning Stock Route.

In 2018, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa joined forces with a range of other Indigenous organisations representing Traditional Owners of desert Country to form the 10 Deserts Project. With $21 million in funding from the BHP Billiton Foundation and support from a range of NGOs (including The Nature Conservancy), the project creates the largest Indigenous-led connected conservation network on Earth – spanning 2.7 million square kilometres or one-third of Australia! 

Click here to view a special edition of CSIRO Publishing’s The Rangeland Journal on the Martu Living Deserts Project

Watch the video below to find out more about how The Nature Conservancy worked with Martu to bring back the bilby and monitor sacred waterholes.

Nature Needs People Production by Prevailing Wind Productions. Aerial cinematography by Dan Proud Aerial. Music courtesy of Audio Network.

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land we help to conserve and pay respect to their Elders both past and present.