Tiwi Land Ranger, Leon Puruntatameri, lighting experimental fires on Melville Island as part of the Tiwi Carbon Study.

Tiwi Land Ranger, Leon Puruntatameri, lighting experimental fires on Melville Island as part of the Tiwi Carbon Study.

Tiwi Carbon Study: managing fire for Greenhouse gas abatement

Tiwi Islanders and CSIRO are working together to examine the biophysical and economic potential of fire management for Greenhouse gas abatement on the Tiwi Islands, as a basis for possible livelihood opportunities for Tiwi people.

  • 10 June 2010 | Updated 14 March 2014

The Tiwi Islands, which are located 80 kilometres north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, are home to 2000 Aboriginal Australians. The Tiwi Carbon Study is a partnership between the Tiwi Land Council, Tiwi Land Rangers, the Tiwi College, and CSIRO.

The study, based on Melville Island, also aims to maintain the special biodiversity values of the Tiwi Islands and foster active involvement of the Tiwi people in scientific research.



 To view the Transcript, please go to the Tiwi Carbon Study: fire management for greenhouse gas abatement on the Tiwi Islands [external link] on YouTube.

Savanna burning

Tropical savannas contain about 30 per cent of Australia’s terrestrial carbon stocks, and are the continent’s most fire prone biome, with up to half or more of many landscapes being burnt each year.

These fires make a significant contribution to the nation’s Greenhouse gas emissions, and there is growing national and international interest in reducing the extent and severity of these fires in a Greenhouse gas abatement context.

Such fire management could provide financial benefits under the emerging carbon economy, and represent important livelihood opportunities for remote Aboriginal communities.

The ability of early season burning to reduce fire size and severity has already been demonstrated through the Western Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project, involving Aboriginal rangers.

“Tiwi people have always understood and cared for country – but now we need to use new knowledge because the world around us is changing.”

Willie Rioli, Tiwi Land Ranger mentor and supervisor


The Tiwi Carbon Study features 18 long-term experimental plots (each 50 to 100 hectares) subject to different fire management options.

Tiwi Land Rangers, Tiwi College students and CSIRO scientists are working together to improve knowledge and understanding of:

  • greenhouse gas emissions from burning various savanna types
  • fire effects on above- and below-ground carbon storage
  • effects of different fire management options on biodiversity
  • economic potential from emission abatement
  • how fire abatement might support Tiwi livelihoods.

CSIRO modelling indicates that there could be substantial increases in carbon stocks and reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases from reducing fire frequency, which could also have important biodiversity benefits.

The results of the Tiwi Carbon Study are being used to develop an integrated Tiwi fire management plan that best meets the cultural, environmental and economic aspirations of the Tiwi people.


As part of the Tiwi Carbon Study, CSIRO is working with the Tiwi College, Tiwi Land Rangers and Charles Darwin University to deliver Vocational Education and Training in Conservation and Land Management.

Tiwi College students help collect data on soil carbon, vegetation dynamics and invertebrate ecology. They gain knowledge and experience of OHS field work procedures, survey and measurement techniques, data recording and the use of field equipment.

Find out more about CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.