Supporting Indigenous land managers on eastern Cape York Peninsula to access ecosystems services markets could deliver water quality benefits for the Great Barrier Reef, while also supporting Indigenous enterprises, delivering social benefits for local communities and contributing to sustainable natural resource management approaches.

The challenge

Indigenous ecosystem services markets are under-developed

Water quality is a critical issue for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike global climate change, it can be controlled by national, catchment and local community action. However, in Australia the models for recognising and rewarding good water and land management by private landowners, particularly Indigenous people, remain under-developed.

Land management activities on eastern Cape York can improve the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.

One pathway for improving water quality is through ecosystem services markets and products. Water-focused ecosystem services are relatively common overseas, but are less developed in Australia, and have not yet been applied to Indigenous controlled land.

Indigenous organisations managing land for biodiversity, carbon, and threatened or feral species outcomes may also be delivering important water quality benefits. For example, on eastern Cape York Peninsula a strong interest in the marine ecosystem and water quality outcomes associated with the Great Barrier Reef is combined with growing Indigenous ownership of land.

Further development of Indigenous ecosystem services can enhance the long term sustainable resourcing of management, associated conservation-based livelihoods, and social benefits.

Our response

Collaborating to assess the opportunities

We partnered with Kalan Enterprises, Cape York Partnerships and James Cook University, to undertake a two-year project focused on the Indigenous livelihood and ecosystem services opportunities on Cape York Peninsula, particularly in relation to water quality and the Great Barrier Reef. The project was funding through the National Environmental Science Program (NESP).

The project team undertook:

  • a community-based evaluation of ecosystem services potential that incorporated field trips , community workshops, visits by potential investors and production of a collaborative film production
  • a review of key features of ecosystem services markets and standards internationally
  • an assessment of areas of ecosystem services opportunity for Kalan Enterprises and how those are best framed
  • an analysis of next steps for governance, business development and research to build towards those opportunities.

[Bird sounds can be heard and then music plays and an image appears of a tree-lined watercourse]

[Image changes to show large trees on either side of a stream]

[Image changes to show a view looking at a bushland landscape on Cape York]

Naomi Hobson: This is Cape York, Queensland, my home.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the top of a gum tree waving in the wind and then the image changes to show a clump of native grass waving in the wind]

[Music continues to play and the image changes to show a bushland landscape with mountains in the background and text appears: Water is our Life, Supporting Indigenous water management in Cape York]

[Music plays and the camera pans over an aerial view of a stream bed]

[Image changes to show Naomi Hobson talking to the camera and text appears: Naomi Hobson, Kalan Enterprises, Southern Kaantju Traditional Owner and Board Member of Kalan Enterprises]

I am Naomi Hobson from Southern Kaantju, one of the Indigenous Traditional Owner groups on Cape York. As Traditional Owners, as Indigenous Australians we care for the country.

[Image changes to show a view of a bushland covered mountain and then the image changes to show a waterhole surrounded by trees]

We care for the rainforest highlands, the river valleys and wetlands and for the coastline, reefs and sea.

[Image changes to show an aerial view of the ocean and the camera pans along the coastline]

Our country includes the internationally significant Great Barrier Reef and the rivers that flow into it off Yumachi, the McIllwraith Range. We know we have an important role now and into the future, to look after these places and to build opportunities for our families and communities.

[Bird calls can be heard and the camera continues to pan along the coastal bushland and the ocean and text appears: Building community opportunities]

[Image changes to show a Kalan truck parked under a tree in the Kalan depot and then the camera pans left to show a Kalan ute driving through the area]

One pathway for building opportunities has been through our management agency, Kalan Enterprises.

[Image changes to show Dion Creek talking to the camera and text appears: Dion Creek, Kalan Enterprises, Operations Director, Kaantju Traditional Owner]

Dion Creek: There’s three things that we’re trying to work towards. It’s about healthy people, healthy country and healthy culture and you can’t have one without the other.

[Images move through of a male walking along a fence line, checking the fence, his boots as he walks and his hands as he works on the fence]

Naomi Hobson: Kalan’s work on water and catchment management, in particular on feral animal management has helped people to learn and to show what they can do.

[Images move through of Shaun Creek talking to the camera, a rear view of a group of Kalan workers and a camera mounted to a tree and text appears: Shaun Creek, Kalan Enterprises, Senior Land Management Officer, Kaantju Traditional Owner]

Shaun Creek: When I come back here and started working, we started fencing off springs, lagoons, just monitoring them from feral animals like pigs and cattle.

[Image changes to show Shaun Creek talking to the camera]

It’s been an eye-opener for me.

[Images move through of Kalan workers picking up tree branches and stacking them, a worker tying knots, a worker using a fence strainer and Allan Creek talking to the camera and text appears: Allan Creek, Kalan Enterprises, Southern Kaantju Elder and Chair of Kalan Enterprises]

Allan Creek: Kalan has to get the workers to prove what they can do, and my thing is to prove how the job has to be done of looking after our country. That’s the main thing, the country, the wildlife on it and the water system, the water system is the main thing. Water is our, our life.

[The sound of a helicopter can be heard and the image changes to show a scrubby mountain and text appears: Partnerships for water quality and reef health]

[Image changes to show a view from the inside of the helicopter and then the image changes to show an aerial view looking down on a river bed]

Naomi Hobson: Cape York Traditional Owners want to benefit land and sea country by working on water quality issues.

[Image changes to show an aerial view of a wetland type area]

To do this important work needs support and partnerships at local, regional, national and international scales.

[Image changes to show a male walking through a bushland area next to water and then the image changes to show Gabriel Giblet-Creek talking to the camera and text appears: Gabriel Giblet-Creek, Kalan Enterprises, Senior Land Management Officer, Kaantju Traditional Owner, Umpila Traditional Owner]

Gabriel Giblet-Creek: We are looking after the country for the rest of Australia and for the rest of the world because we are here to do our job and so that we can stop the impact that goes into the Nesbit River that leads out to the Great Barrier Reef.

[Image changes to show an aerial view looking down on a bushland area and then the image changes to show an aerial view looking down on a body of water surrounded by bushland]

I encourage everyone in Australia and around the world to do your part.

[Image changes to show Richie Ah Mat talking to the camera and then sitting on rocks across a watercourse and text appears: Richie Ah Mat, Cape York Land Council, Chair]

Richie Ah Mat: It’s fantastic to see that the Kalan people are really looking after and interested in the environment, looking after their country, you know from the river catchment to the coast, to the reef, you know it’s very, very important for blackfellas, all blackfellas in Cape York.

[Camera pans down the watercourse and then the image changes to show Richie Ah Mat talking to the camera again]

I think the Land Council, showing its support, getting behind the Kalan mob, we have to do that.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a view looking up at a large gum tree and then the image changes to show a view of a dry watercourse and the camera pans along the watercourse]

[Image changes to show three people standing in a dry watercourse]

Justin Perry: As the water comes down, you get to see that temperature gradient change from top to bottom.

[Image changes to show Justin Perry walking away from the camera and then turning towards the camera as he talks and text appears: Justin Perry, CSIRO, Research Scientist]

It’s still really, really important to look at the details in here. There’s complex systems.

[Images move through of two males taking soil samples, a group in conversation next to a water course, a male measuring a turtle’s head and then the male releasing the turtle back into the water]

Naomi Hobson: Kalan Enterprises is working with research partners such as CSIRO, James Cook University and Cape York Partnerships to explore new business options for recognising and resourcing Indigenous water management.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a sandy area in the middle of the bushland and text appears: New investment in Indigenous stewardship]

[Image changes to show an aerial view of the ocean and coast and the camera continues to pan along the area]

The role of Indigenous Traditional Owners in enhancing the future of the reef needs more recognition and more resources.

[Image changes to show a view looking down on the ocean and then the image changes to show Professor Allan Dale talking to the camera and text appears: Professor Allan Dale, Regional Development Australia, Chair, RDA Far North Queensland and Torres Strait]

Professor Allan Dale: This means we need to start thinking differently about the management of the reef and the Great Barrier Reef north of Cairns, to be really recognising the role of Traditional Owners in the management of that estate, right through Cape York, through to the Torres Strait and starting to think much more seriously about how would Australian society support Traditional Owners through that area to be strong stewards.

[Image changes to show Allan Dale walking along a watercourse and then standing next to a dead tree and looking up]

Naomi Hobson: This stewardship is based on customary ownership, increasing property rights and growing management experience. It will also need income from business development.

[The camera pans down to show Allan Dale talking to the camera]

Professor Allan Dale: With these rights comes the opportunity to develop either through traditional means or through maybe new means and the new means potentially are around the concept of ecosystems services, the rest of the world recognising that these fairly intact natural resources are of international significance. What role does the international community, what role does the market community play in investing and supporting Traditional Owners to be the best possible stewards of that land?

[Bird calls can be heard and the image changes to show a view of treetops in the bushland and then text appears: Enhancing social benefits]

[Image changes to show two males banging in a star dropper as they build a wire fence and then the camera zooms out to show a trailer carrying fencing equipment next to them as they work]

Naomi Hobson: Any new opportunities also need to support existing programmes and their benefits.

[Image changes to show Gabriel Giblet-Creek talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a group of Kalan workers at work filling sacks]

Gabriel Giblet-Creek: I feel very proud to wear this uniform the next generation see me do the stuff that I do because I inspire them in many ways.

[Image changes to show Shaun Creek lifting a sack from the back of a ute and carrying it and then the image changes to show Shaun Creek talking to the camera]

Shaun Creek: Working here is fulfilling. It’s an income but it’s more satisfying knowing that you’re connected to this country and it’s more meaningful.

[Music plays and images move through of a small tree blowing in the wind, clouds in the sky and then a bushland mountainous landscape]

[Image changes to show Gabriel Giblet-Creek’s legs as he walks into some shallow water and then the camera zooms out to show Gabriel Giblet-Creek as he walks out the other side of the water]

Naomi Hobson: Water is the life blood of the country and of the Indigenous people who hold it.

[Image changes to show an aerial view looking down on the coastal area]

Maintaining and improving water quality is also one key to securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

[Music plays and background talking can be heard and images move through of a male standing next to a whiteboard and talking to a group of people and then a male’s face as he listens]

[Images move through of a group working on a fence near a shallow body of water, a tiny fish held in the hands and then an aerial view looking down on a watercourse bordered by bushland]

Kalan Enterprises is seeking support for this work from people and organisations who also want to build healthy people, healthy culture and healthy country in this unique place in the world.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a view looking along a watercourse and then the image changes to show an aerial view of a watercourse meeting the ocean]

[Surf crashing on the shore can be heard and the camera pans along the coastline and text appears: For further information see www.kalan.org.au ]

[Music plays and text appears: Directors, Marcus Barber and Allan Creek]

[Text appears: Producers, Marcus Barber, Dion Creek, Allan Dale, Tim Jaffer, Justin Perry, Rebecca Pearse, Michael Winer]

[Text appears: Camera & Editing, Craig Goode]

[Text appears: Special thanks, Balkanu Aboriginal Development Corporation]

[Text appears: This film was made through the support of]

[CSIRO, Kalan Enterprises, James Cook University Australia and Cape York Partnership logos appear]

[Tropical Water Quality Hub, National Environment Science Programme logos and Australian Government Coat of Arms appears]

[Text appears: Copyright CSIRO and Kalan Enterprises 2017]

Water is Our Life :  Supporting Indigenous water management in Cape York

The results

Opportunities and risks identified

The results of the project are captured in the final report, Community-based evaluation, governance, and strategic planning for Indigenous Ecosystem Services in Eastern Cape York Peninsula, and a film about the project, Water is Our Life: Supporting Indigenous water management in Cape York (see above).

The research found that significant opportunities (and some risks) exist for Indigenous people on Cape York Peninsula in the ecosystem services sector, particularly with respect to water and catchment management. Securing opportunities and managing risks needs:

  • strengthened local and regional Indigenous governance systems
  • the development of policies, programs and regulatory frameworks to support ecosystem services valuation
  • partnerships with agencies that have skills in monitoring and evaluation
  • building relationships with future customers (both government and non-government)
  • identifying complementary business opportunities and income streams that can support Indigenous provision of ecosystem services
  • Indigenous natural and cultural resource management that can generate substantial social benefits for employees, local communities, and wider society.

The final report also provides the foundations for a strategic business document for an Indigenous country-based management agency, in this case Kalan Enterprises.

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