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.
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.
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.
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.
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.