Biodiversity publications archive

Reimbursing the future: an evaluation of motivational, voluntary, price-based, property-right, and regulatory incentives for the conservation of biodiversity

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 9
M.D. Young, N. Gunningham, J. Elix, J. Lambert, B. Howard, P. Grabosky and E. McCrone
CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, and Community Solutions
Biodiversity Unit, Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 642 24429 4

Appendix 2.7: Top End and Kimberley tourism case study

Prepared by Penny van Oosterzee
Ecoz Ecology Australia, Darwin


This document presents a case study of the potential of incentive instruments and mechanisms designed to promote the conservation of biodiversity in the Top End of the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The aim of the study is to outline the biodiversity values in the area, determine the processes threatening those values, and recommend instrument mixes to conserve them. In particular, the study focuses on the impact of nature-based tourism and ecotourism on biodiversity and discusses the use of incentives and instruments to minimise threats to biodiversity values that may be caused by the tourism industry. Since most of the land in this vast region of Australia is either Aboriginal land or pastoral leases, the study focuses on tourism and associated threats to biodiversity in these areas. Historically, nature conservation and biodiversity issues have not received a great deal of attention from the pastoral sector. While attitudes are changing, genuine concern for, and understanding of, biodiversity conservation is not a priority of most pastoralists. In addition to this, increasing pressure from the competing interests of the rapidly developing tourism industry, Aboriginal interests and conservation interests have developed a conflict situation which needs to be resolved within a regional framework.

Such a process was initiated in 1990 with the release for public comment of the Kimberley Region Plan Study Report: A Strategy for Growth and Conservation. Since then, however, relationships between the vying interests have, if anything, deteriorated, and no progress toward conflict resolution, let alone strategic regional planning, has been made. These factors considered, it is important to realise that while incentives may be part of an overall solution they will not, by themselves, help to further biodiversity conservation on Aboriginal land and pastoral leases unless they are part of a (bio)regional framework with well-considered and agreed objectives. Part of the solution is a full appreciation of the problems and issues facing pastoralists and Aboriginal people today.

The area

The Top End and Kimberley region of Australia are the northern part of the Northern Territory and of Western Australia respectively. It is perhaps better described geographically from west to east as the region from Broome, through Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park, Gregory National Park, Litchfield National Park, Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. It includes the major towns of Broome, Kununurra, Katherine and Darwin. In Western Australia the National Parks and reserves are managed by the Department of Conservation and Land Management (WA CALM), and in the Northern Territory, by the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory (CCNT). The exception is Kakadu National Park, east of Darwin, which is administered by the national Australian Nature Conservation Agency.

Biodiversity status

The Top End and Kimberley region of the wet/dry tropics of northern Australia are nestled within one of the three main biogeographic zones of Australia, the Torresian Zone. This zone is characterised by forests and woodlands dominated by eucalypts. The Torresian Zone also includes a belt of woodlands along the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the woodlands and forests of eastern Queensland.

The wet/dry tropics are characterised by a distinct wet season with mean rainfall of 600-1600 mm over 4-7 months, followed by a dry season during which almost no rain falls. The ecology and biodiversity of the wet/dry tropics are markedly different from the humid tropics. This adds to the tourism appeal of Australia as a country of diverse environments. Fundamentally, the extreme seasonality of rainfall and permanently high temperatures drive much of the population dynamics and ecosystem complexity of the region.

Endemism of freshwater fishes, frogs and lizards is high in the Top End and particularly so in the Kimberley region which harbours significant ecological refuges (Morton et al., 1995). These fascinating areas often contain large numbers of endemic species, or species or ecosystems which do not occur in the broad sweep of the surrounding environment. Not surprisingly, these are the areas that nature lovers seek out and focus on while travelling, particularly in the Kimberley.

Morton et al. (1995) have identified most of the Kimberley as being a focus for biological diversity. Many species are regionally endemic and relict populations of species that occur in the sheltered gorges of the beautiful Bungle Bungle massif, the starkly spectacular Oscar and Napier Ranges and probably also the limestone massif in the central Kimberley region. In addition, wetland sites of significance occur in the King Leopold Ranges, Camballin Floodplain of the Fitzroy River, within the Bungle Bungles, at Roebuck Bay, Eighty Mile Beach, Mandora Salt marsh and Tunnel Creek. Specific refugia include the Bungle Bungles, Camballin Floodplain, Roebuck Plains, the Mandora Salt marsh, Windjana Gorge, Geikie Gorge, Tunnel Creek and the Edgar Ranges. Most of these areas are also hotspots for tourism. Broadly speaking, the Top End and Kimberley regions provide a variety of attractive ecosystems.

In terms of vegetation, the coastal, saline and freshwater wetlands are the most recently formed and the simplest in terms of biological diversity. For tourism, they offer expansive floodplains traversed by broad, sinuous rivers, and a variety of attractive and navigable waterways and billabongs. In scenic contrast, the widespread eucalypt-dominated communities of the well-drained lowlands are more complex and contain a diverse assemblage of species of mixed origin. The sandstone, often forming spectacular escarpments and cliffs, supports a flora which has features in common with other sandstone floras of Australia and contains relict elements. Cool, dappled monsoon forest pockets or 'jungles' also have many floristic similarities with vegetation types further eastwards in the Australian tropics and in the tropical Indo-Malesian region to the north (Dunlop & Webb, 1991).

A distinctive feature of the monsoon forest pockets is their small, disjunct nature. Essentially, they are islands of mixed origin, semi-evergreen vegetation in a sea of sclerophyll forest. Understanding of the monsoon forests' distinctive flora is still in its infancy. Recent studies are revealing a very high diversity at the upper taxonomic levels. Monsoon pockets are preferred habitat for several species of birds - priorities on any birdwatcher's list - including the Pacific Baza, Grey Goshawk, Orange-footed Scrub Fowl, Rainbow Pitta, Torresian Imperial Pigeon and the Shining Flycatcher (DEST, unpubl.). While vertebrate diversity of the monsoon patches is considered mostly depauperate, they are significant in some areas for a number of species, including the impressive-looking Golden-backed Tree Rat.

The greatest structural diversity in the habitats of terrestrial vertebrates occurs in the open forests and woodlands; these habitats are richest in species of reptiles, birds and mammals. The coastal floodplains of the major rivers of the Top End have abundant and easy to observe wildlife. These coastal floodplains retain the most extensive freshwater swampland in Australia, providing breeding areas, habitat and refuge for important wildlife populations, especially fish, insects, waterbirds and estuarine crocodiles. Structural diversity of habitats beneath the surface of the water is greatest in the deeper channels and billabongs of the floodplains. Richness of freshwater fishes is highest on these floodplains. The seasonally flooded wetlands, while structurally the simplest habitats, also support a much greater total biomass of terrestrial vertebrates than do the open forests (up to 65 species of waterbirds congregate in millions).

The floodplains of the Mary and Adelaide Rivers are good examples of major floodplain-tidal wetland systems. The Lower Mary River, unusually, lacks a major estuary over much of its length, breaking down into a complex network of discontinuous channels and billabongs. It features some of the largest areas of forested swamp in the Northern Territory. Notable features of the Lower Adelaide River include one of the largest areas of mangrove associated with a Top End floodplain, a tightly meandering major tidal river and several marginal swamps, including the largest floodplain lake in the Top End, Lake Finniss. Near-permanent marshes, rare wetland types in the Northern Territory, also occur in the Lower Adelaide River. Several monsoon rainforest patches occur in both wetland systems. Some of these feature rare plants not known from elsewhere in Australia.

The floodplains of the Mary and Adelaide Rivers sustain an extraordinary abundance of birds, especially waterbirds, of which 65 species have been recorded. The highest known density of breeding of Magpie Goose, Anseranas semipalmata, occurs in the Adelaide River wetlands. The largest egret rookery of the Northern Territory is located on the coast at Chambers Bay stretching eastwards into the Mary River Conservation Reserve. The White-breasted Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus pulchellus, has its highest known breeding concentration in the Northern Territory on the Mary River. In addition, a monsoon rainforest patch at Fogg Dam on the Adelaide River has the largest known population of the Rainbow Pitta, Pitta iris.

Both the Mary and Adelaide Rivers harbour large populations of estuarine crocodiles and support many fish species including Barramundi, Lates calcarifer, Saratoga, Scleropages jardinii, Salmon Catfish, Arius leptaspis, and Chequered Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia splendida. A number of populations of the Primitive Archerfish, Toxotes lorentzi, are also found in the Adelaide River wetlands.

The floodplains of the Lower Adelaide River and Mary River wetlands feature a variety and abundance of wildlife of major biological importance and, potentially, of outstanding international tourism appeal. The wetlands are close to Darwin, which is rapidly becoming an international gateway, and on the way to Kakadu, which is the major drawcard for tourists visiting the Top End. In many respects the wetlands have the potential to offer a broader diversity of wetlands experiences than does Kakadu. The significant increase in visitor numbers at other Northern Territory parks of the Top End, such as Litchfield National Park, is evidence of this demand for more experiences.

Tourism, resource use and conservation objectives

Top End

For leisure seekers, the lure of the outdoor lifestyle, unspoilt environment and wide open spaces has placed tourism second only to mining as the major income earner for the Territory (A Conservation Strategy for the Northern Territory, 1994a). Of the major tenure types, pastoral leases occupy 652,209 square km or 49%, and Aboriginal freehold 553,927 square km or 41% of the Territory. A further 115,980 square km or 9% of the Northern Territory is currently under Aboriginal Land Claim. Minor tenure types include Vacant Crown Land (70,914 sq. km. or 5.3%), and Parks and Conservation Reserves 45,000 square km or 3.3% (Northern Territory Department of Lands).

In 1992/93 there were approximately 917,000 visitors to the Northern Territory, with interstate visitors making up 45% of the total. Fifty-seven per cent of tourists to the Northern Territory travel to the Top End. Most people come to the Northern Territory for holidays or recreation, with only a small proportion visiting families or relatives, or visiting for the purpose of business. Visitor expenditure totalled $558 million. By 1998/9 total expenditure is projected to reach $796 million, with projected visitor numbers of 1.25 million.

The Northern Territory tourism industry is characterised by small, under-capitalised enterprises which lack critical mass (NTG, 1994a). There are 122 different operators in the Top End offering 357 different tours (NTG, 1994a). Virtually all of this product is dependent on the natural environment and Aboriginal culture, with about half providing specific 'ecological' experiences.


Pastoralism is the Kimberley region's traditional industry and over 50% of the area is still held under pastoral lease. Less than 5% of the Kimberley region is protected and managed as National Parks and Nature Reserves, although up to 12% has been proposed by WA CALM (Kimberley Region Plan, 1990). Other significant land uses include Aboriginal Reserves, which occupy about 12% of the region. In addition, Aboriginal people own 25 (26%) of the 98 pastoral leases.

Visitor numbers to the Kimberley have doubled from 120,000 to 250,000 in nine years to 1990. This statistic does not account for the thousands who travel independently or in safari-style tours, fly light planes, or cruise the coast, for which there are no quantifiable data (Schmiechen, 1992). In 1990 there were 40 nature based ecotourism tour operators, based in either Western Australia or interstate, featuring the Kimberley's natural wonders (WA CALM, cited in Schmiechen, 1992).

The conservation strategy of the Northern Territory

The legal framework for biodiversity conservation in the Northern Territory is complex, with many provisions in a variety of Acts remaining unused. Legislation dealing with the management of land and natural resources is currently under review, with the aim to simplify administration and improve effectiveness and explicit incentives for conservation actions on private land (Peter Whitehead, CCNT, pers com.). In the Northern Territory two important policy documents pertain to biodiversity conservation, The Conservation Strategy of the Northern Territory, 1994 (NTG, 1994a) and the Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan, 1994.

The Conservation Strategy of the Northern Territory, 1994 (NTG, 1994b) has four major goals: conservation of biodiversity; conservation of natural and cultural heritage; sustainable use of those resources; and maintenance of a clean, healthy environment. The six objectives developed to achieve the goals involve increased knowledge of the Territory's natural resources in order to conserve, better manage and discover the potential for sustainable utilisation of them; monitor the condition and use of resources and assess environmental impacts.

The Conservation Strategy of the Northern Territory (1994a) identifies specific actions for the protection of the Top End's biodiversity. These actions include the description and understanding of species and ecological communities at risk. Programs to achieve this are the Biological Records Scheme and the Northern Territory Ecological Survey. The immediate priorities are ephemeral and intermittent wetlands.

A network of representative protected areas and management programs is also being set up. It is recognised that these should be complemented by off-reserve arrangements through management agreements. Monitoring programs to assess the abundance and condition of species, the condition of the protected area network, and the effectiveness of off-park agreements and environmental impacts are being developed. Currently, the Northern Territory maintains a Land Information System.

The Conservation Strategy of the Northern Territory has identified the establishment and use of databases describing the occurrence, distribution and capability of resources as the key to determining the sustainable use of its natural resources. A natural resource monitoring network with reference sites in key environments is to be established by the end of this decade.

The Strategy has also recognised that it is the responsibility of both resource users and government to ensure that natural resources are managed in a sustainable way and that this can only be achieved through planning. A diversity of management plans has been established for flora, fauna, fisheries, National Parks and Aboriginal land and for land used for agriculture and pastoralism.

Tourism enterprises are not currently the focus of management planning – apart from their obvious inclusion in plans of management for National Parks. However, 'the emergence of tourism as a major contributor to the economy warrants the inclusion of tourist related development in regional and multiple land use planning' (NTG, 1994a).

The Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan

Much of the appeal of the Territory centres around the major Australian icons of Ayers Rock (Uluru) and Kakadu National Park and a perceived outback image. A relaxed lifestyle, abundant wildlife, untouched natural features, vibrant Aboriginal culture, easily accessed history and a surfeit of unspoiled open spaces all combine to make the Northern Territory a unique place to visit (Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan, 1994: 31)

The Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan (NTG, 1994b) is a five-year masterplan which was developed cooperatively by six government departments, including those relating to tourism and conservation, the Office of Aboriginal Development and the Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory.

The Masterplan unequivocally recognises natural values as fundamental to tourism and this dependence is reflected throughout the Masterplan. The Masterplan recognises the intrinsic values of wilderness and wildlife, the need for conservation and land management, that the industry must be sustainable, and that the Territory has a natural advantage in nature-based tourism. It recognises that the need for coordinated and creative planning is paramount, with one of the most important issues being to expand the network of parks in order to broaden nature-based tourism opportunities.

The Masterplan argues that the drawing power of nature-based tourism is achieved by protecting rare and endangered flora and fauna, by preserving good representative samples of Northern Territory ecosystems and biogeographical regions, and by involving Aboriginal people. It establishes that initiatives and private developments must be ecologically sustainable, and acknowledges that this makes good commercial sense.

The Masterplan recognises that the Greater National Parks concept, currently being developed by the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory (see below), provides both conservation and tourism values. It believes that Greater National Parks can be marketed as quality tourism destinations due to their outstanding natural values. In terms of biodiversity incentives, this example of the tourism industry backing up conservation initiatives is a powerful example of the strength of cooperative arrangements.

Specifically the Masterplan's 'Key Development Policies and Projects' aim to develop and implement a Territory Parks Strategy involving:

The plan considers that a network of remote parks can be established throughout the Territory without much outlay and with prospects of high returns. It puts the onus on park planners only to devise ways to divert large numbers of people away from high usage areas for the management of parks. The Northern Territory Government has placed great emphasis on development of its park system because of its role in conservation and because it believes balanced development of this system will be a key element in the development of tourism.

Threats to biodiversity values

Ecosystem and habitat loss and decline

Land degradation

In the Kimberley region, land degradation due to overgrazing is a problem for biodiversity conservation, particularly for the Ord River basin of the eastern Kimberley. This degradation is largely the result of past management practices (Tothill and Gillies, 1992). Information on the current condition of land in the Top End of the Northern Territory is limited, although there is evidence that serious droughts exacerbated the effects of heavy grazing and caused soil erosion and loss of vegetation in the past (Wilcox and Cunningham, 1994).


Fire has been implicated in the extinction of small mammals in the arid and semi-arid region of Australia. Although wildfire had a role to play, the situation has been exacerbated by the introduction by European settlers of altered fire regimes. The situation may not be as severe in the wet/dry tropics, although fire can destroy monsoon forest pockets with significant biodiversity and tourism values, and is known to change the species composition in the eucalypt forests and woodlands of the Top End. Changes in fire management practices associated with European settlement are seen to have brought significant change to the biodiversity of the Northern Territory (Bird Rose, 1995).

Lack of knowledge

Given the unusual situation, particularly in the Top End, that the current threat to biodiversity is relatively low (Braithwaite and Werner, 1987), perhaps one of the greatest threats to the region's biodiversity is the current lack of knowledge about it. For instance, in the ten years from 1983, twenty new mammals, reptiles and amphibians have been described and 350 new plants identified (NTG, 1994a). A biological survey of the Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles) and adjacent areas in 1992 (CALM, 1992), for example, produced 12 species of plant new to the Kimberley, an undescribed reptile species of gecko, a skink and a turtle. Without knowledge of the extent and distribution of species, habitats and ecosystems of the Kimberley and Top End, there is no guarantee that plans for the development of so-called 'ecologically sustainable tourism' will achieve this objective.

Uncontrolled tourism

Since most tourism in the Kimberley is currently unmanaged, and since the most utilised areas are usually on waterholes and biologically significant refuge areas across the region, tourism has the potential to become a significant threat to biodiversity values at focal points. The range of impacts and potential impacts includes the over-collecting of firewood, water pollution from campers, faecal contamination of sites, litter accumulation, track erosion, vegetation destruction, and other damage.

Direct species loss

Introduced species

While the wet/dry tropics have not yet been so much affected by European settlement as southern and eastern Australia, there are, nevertheless, a number of conservation and management issues which do pose problems at a landscape scale. The introduction of domesticated mammals that have gone feral, for instance, comprises one of the most dramatic human impacts on the ecosystems of the Top End and Kimberley region (Ridpath, 1991). Horse, donkey, pig, camel and water buffalo all cause management problems in various parts of the region. Exotic weeds such as Hyptis suaveolens and Mimosa pigra are also major problems, especially in the Top End where Mimosa pigra, in particular, has the potential to choke what would otherwise be attractive wetlands rich in wildlife.

While clearing has not been significant in the monsoon forests, the introduction of water buffalo, pig and domestic cattle has been devastating; the forest structure has been opened, allowing desiccation and incursion of catastrophic late dry season fires.

The main threat to biodiversity on the Mary and Adelaide River wetlands is the infestation of the exotic, thorny shrub, Mimosa pigra. This plant spreads quickly, forming impenetrable thickets, literally choking the country and displacing native vegetation. It destroys nesting sites for waterbirds including the Magpie Goose. In particular it is recognised that the weed Mimosa pigra has the potential to destroy the productivity and tourism potential of the region. Saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands, aided by past high populations of water buffalo, inappropriate fire regimes and lack of a coordinated fire management strategy, and feral animals, particularly cats and pigs, are also threats.

Existing regulations, incentive instruments and mechanisms

National Parks in a multiple-use conservation framework

The Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1993 offers protection to wildlife habitats for the maintenance of biodiversity through a formal reservation system. In addition, a National Park in the Territory is often enclosed within a multi-use framework and can accommodate unique arrangements which may protect the interests of Aboriginal traditional owners and also provide for regulated use of resources. for instance, in 1989 the (then) Katherine Gorge National Park was vested in the Jawoyn Aboriginal Land Trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. At the same time the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park Act 1989 was enacted to provide for management of the Park area by a Board comprising a majority of Aboriginal people. The Board's functions include preparing management plans, protecting customary rights of use and occupation, and cultural heritage protection.

Such joint arrangements are important incentives for biodiversity conservation and involve financial and technical support by government on lands held by members of the community. They are likely to become an increasingly important component of the conservation landscape of the Northern Territory and elsewhere (Peter Whitehead, CCNT, pers com.).

Greater National Park Concept

The industry as a whole in its policies, plans and negotiations should be supporting the conservation of Australia's biodiversity because, amongst other things, it is demonstrable that when new National Parks or reserves are created, the industry as a whole benefits from the opportunities created (Preece et al., 1995)

The Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan has flagged the development, by the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, of the Greater National Park Concept. This involves linking Nitmiluk National Park, Kakadu National Park and Gurig National Park through agreements with neighbouring landholders – pastoral leaseholders and Aboriginal landholders – regarding management of adjacent sites. The concept, if successful, will culminate in a vast conservation region totalling 5,560,700 ha in which landscape-scale, coordinated management (eg. fire, weeds, feral animals) can take place. While negotiations are at an early stage, a range of incentives to maintain high standards of conservation management on private (mainly Aboriginal) lands abutting parks and reserves have been suggested. They include the development of direct employment opportunities or preference for Aboriginal people in contracts let for park maintenance and tour or other concessions (Peter Whitehead, CCNT, pers com.).

If implemented, the Greater National Park concept will significantly increase the area of land in the Northern Territory that is reserved. The main driving force, according to the Masterplan, is to 'quickly gain a reputation for outstanding value [that can] be easily marketed as quality international destinations.' The areas earmarked for reservation are important for biodiversity conservation because they include ecosystems and species currently not reserved, even though they are not necessarily top priority in terms of representativeness. Nevertheless, the concept emphasises the importance of the conservation of biodiversity as part of a strategy to develop tourism in the Top End of Australia.

Wetlands National Park, Wildlife and Tourism Zone concept

Another example of planning within a multiple-use framework is the Wetlands National Park, Wildlife and Tourism Zone concept. This concept fulfils many of the objectives stated in the Conservation Strategy and the Tourism Zone Masterplan.

The concept, originally mooted in 1990 as a Top End Wetlands Conservation and Recreation Development Strategy, has now evolved into two plans, the Mary River National Park Concept Plan (1993), and the Lower Adelaide River Wetlands, Wildlife and Tourism Concept Plan (1995). The plans cover two major adjacent corridors of the Adelaide and Mary Rivers. The plans provide a framework for the integration of biodiversity conservation and tourism with existing land uses.

A number of conservation reserves exist within the wetlands multi-use concept zone, including the Mary River, Point Stuart, Wildman, Fogg Dam, Cape Hotham Forest, Marrakai and Vernon Islands Conservation Reserves. Many of the key conservation values identified above are afforded protective management by virtue of being included within the parks and reserve system.

The Mary River and Adelaide River concept plans provide frameworks in which biodiversity conservation is the primary objective for the region. While several National Parks and reserves exist, most of the land tenure is pastoral leasehold and Crown leasehold managed for pastoral use. Conservation and tourism use of the environment is being sought via a number of incentives which are based on the objectives of cooperative endeavour, zoning and management agreements. These are discussed below.

Negotiations are, however, at an early stage and where management for conservation does occur on the pastoral leases (such as fencing of important habitat pockets and works to halt saltwater intrusion), it is often done through informal agreements between the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory and the lessee.

Parks in the Kimberley

The situation in the Kimberley is in noticeable contrast to that of the Top End. The remote and wild Kimberley region in the north-west of Australia has become one of the prime tourist destinations in Australia. This development has largely been ad hoc and, to date, the problems faced by the people of the Kimberley have largely been dealt with in a reactive manner.

According to Schmiechen (1992), mass tourism to the Kimberley started with a television documentary of the maze of striped beehive domes of the Bungle Bungles in 1982. Subsequent publicity emphasised "a mysterious lost world more spectacular than the famed domes of the Olgas". Continuing media focus promoting the region's natural history and Aboriginal heritage, the sealing of Highway One in 1986, and the promotion of Broome as a tourist town has continued to encourage visitors to the Kimberley (Schmiechen, 1992).

The Kimberley Region Planning Study (1990), commissioned by the Western Australian Government, described the Kimberley as having developed in a relatively uncoordinated manner, where the demand for land had generally been met one need at a time, with little regard for existing use, alternative potential uses or impacts of land use upon the existing environment. Of the less than 5% of land in the Kimberley managed as parks or reserves, the largest National Park, the Drysdale River National Park, is only accessible to the public via pastoral stations.

Schmiechen (1992) states that Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park was dedicated in 1987 after uncontrolled visitor impacts had placed the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) 'in a retrieval situation.' Furthermore, Schmiechen (1992) asserts that the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads are creating similar problems that require urgent attention if the environmental and cultural attributes of these areas are to be safeguarded.

Present park management

From 1971, the WA Department of Fisheries and Wildlife organised a series of biological surveys in the Kimberley. The information gained has been used as a basis for subsequent recommendations and information in the CTRC System 7 Report and Update (1977), Nature Conservation Reserves in the Kimberley (1991) and the Kimberley Region Planning Study, 1990. Despite this initiative, there has been no follow-up work (Schmiechen, 1992).

Davies (1985, cited in Schmiechen, 1992) stated that management of parks in the Kimberley has been almost non-existent. He pointed out that the Prince Regent River Nature Reserve and Drysdale River National Park, the combined area of which is almost as large as Kakadu National Park, are entirely unmanaged, except for the occasional rounding up of stock by adjacent landholders.

According to Schmiechen (1992), little has changed since Davies' assessment of conservation priorities in the Kimberley. Regional staff have been allocated to more widely used reserves such as the Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park and other reserves have been largely self-sustaining. WA CALM strongly dispute this, however, pointing out that in these inaccessible regions, monitoring and fire management largely occurs by air (Mark Pittavino and Allan Thomson, WA CALM, pers com.).

Nature based and ecotourism (NBE) and biodiversity conservation on pastoral land

In the Top End, attempts to stimulate interest by pastoral leaseholders in tourism in the late 1980s met with little enthusiasm (NTG, 1994a); only a handful of properties provide for tourism. Most of these offer experiences directly relating to pastoral activities. One, Bradshaw Station, uses the natural beauty of the land in the Victoria River District as its main attraction. Tourism to Bradshaw Station is in its infancy and, currently, only attracts perhaps 20 people per year who come largely for a wilderness experience (Roper, pers. com. WildQuest.).

In the Kimberley, the limited roads and tracks which service the pastoral interests have formed the main conduit for an increasing stream of curious and adventurous tourist traffic. As already mentioned, Drysdale River National Park, the largest National Park in the Kimberley, is accessed via unmarked station roads. In addition, many, if not most, of the more remote tourist attractions are on pastoral land or are accessed via pastoral tracks.

Regionally, little planning has been carried out to tackle the requirements of tourists using these roads, and capital outlay and infrastructure development are carried out in an ad hoc manner. Many pastoralists in the Kimberley now depend on tourism to subsidise income derived from pastoralism (Anne Koeyers, Drysdale River Station, pers com.) by providing fuel, supplies, guided tours, camping sites and homestead accommodation. Inappropriate legislation, however, sometimes constrains pastoralists wishing to provide infrastructure which will lessen environmental damage caused by unmanaged tourism.

For example, Ian Sinnamon, who owns three cattle stations which straddle 280 km of the Gibb River Road, was, in 1984, the first pastoralist in the Kimberley to provide a remote camping area with toilets and showers for passing traffic. Understandably, he wanted to charge a fee to cover the costs. This, however, placed him within the jurisdiction of the Western Australian State Health Act 1911, specifically the Caravan Parks and Camping Grounds Regulations 1974. These regulations required him to seal the area and provide engineered drainage. Mr Sinnamon skirted the issue by offering the facilities for free. Instead, he charged a fee to enter the station. Mr Sinnamon's view is that confining people to one area keeps rubbish in the one place, saves the road and makes tourists 'behave' (Ian Sinnamon, pers com.).

Drysdale River Station occupies an important strategic position on the increasingly popular Kalumbur Road. Four kilometres from the homestead, the road crosses the Drysdale River and this crossing has become a favoured overnight stopping point for up to 40 travellers a night (Koeyers, pers com.). The area has no facilities. Anne Koeyers, the lessee of the station, wished to provide a basic 'long-drop' toilet facility at Miners Pool, 3 km away from the crossing, in order to contain the degradation and contamination caused by so many people camping without facilities.

Mrs Koeyers wishes to charge a fee to provide some return for the costs of managing the site. Once again, however, this will place the camping area under the jurisdiction of the Caravan Parks and Camping Ground Regulations, which require, amongst other things, a septic toilet block. There are currently no provisions for more basic toilet facilities in Western Australian legislation. Anne Koeyers points out that she (and other pastoralists) cannot afford the infrastructure required under the Caravan and Camping Ground Regulations. She notes, however, that the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management are exempt from the regulations and, as a result, do provide the cheaper 'long-drop' toilets in the Kimberley National Parks. Faecal contamination at crossings and waterholes on pastoral leases continues (Koeyers, pers com.).

The Kalumburu Road has now become the feeder route for accessing the Mitchell Plateau, and the Mitchell Falls, considered one of the 'jewels' of the Kimberley scenic treasures. Access to these is via a mining exploration track which is maintained as a condition of the mining lease. That this track services growing numbers of tourists is incidental. A mining exploration road built to the diamond lease on the King George River has also started to attract increasing visitor traffic to the spectacular King George Falls (Schmiechen, 1992) which, like visitation to the Mitchell Plateau, is unmanaged.

In the past, the inaccessibility of Drysdale National Park and Prince Regent Nature Reserve has in itself been a management tool. However, with the increasing demand for nature based tourism, identification and declaration of particular National Parks and natural areas now acts as a magnet for tourists, who are attracted by the very selection of those areas and the fact that the areas are made open to public access. The act of dedication thus creates its own demands (Preece et al., 1995).

NBE and biodiversity on Aboriginal land

Aboriginal people make up more than 20% of the population of the Northern Territory and own or claim about half the total area of the Territory. The unique arrangements involving local Aboriginal communities, specifically the Jawoyn people who own Nitmiluk National Park, have already been discussed above.

National Aboriginal Tour Operators Forum

Held in May 1995, the National Aboriginal Tour Operators Forum (NATOF) was facilitated by the Northern Territory Tourist Commission, with funding support from ATSIC as part of the Draft Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Tourism Strategy Pilot Projects. The forum – which represented more than three-quarters of all Aboriginal tourism enterprises in Australia – presented the most up-to-date view on Aboriginal tourism issues, sharing stories and experiences with the aim of ensuring that Aboriginal tourism becomes a viable and sustainable sector of the Australian and world tourism scene (NATOF, Draft Proceedings, 1995). The following information was obtained from an early draft of the Proceedings of the NATOF.

Aboriginal tourism has been actively promoted in the Northern Territory for at least the last eight years and some of the first Aboriginal tourism enterprises in Australia were started in the Territory (NATOF, Draft Proceedings, 1995). The Northern Territory Tourism Development Masterplan (NTG, 1994b) also recognised that Aboriginal people have a major stake in tourism but that there are significant barriers to their involvement. These barriers are not outlined in the Masterplan which does, however, propose solutions, including the development of training strategies, brokerage of joint venture arrangements, and provision of support and advice (NTG, 1994b).

At the Forum it was recognised that the main impetus for Aboriginal tourism growth over the past several years has been the extensive national and international tourism marketing campaigns run largely by the Australian Tourist Commission. These campaigns have highlighted Aboriginal culture in marketing the brand-name 'Australia' overseas. It is largely because of this that Aboriginal tourism now has international appeal.

While the marketing effort often misrepresents Aboriginal culture (NATOF, Draft Proceedings, 1995), in many respects the exposure has catalysed a growing awareness among Aboriginal people themselves of the potential of tourism opportunities. In particular, the potential of tourism opportunities to address unemployment in Aboriginal communities was recognised in the Forum as a rising hope.

The Forum also identified the fact that Aboriginal tourism is fraught with problems. In particular, it was recognised that the very nature of the demands of tourism, and the expertise required, is often a barrier to Aboriginal involvement. Other barriers identified in the Forum included 'the inherent racism' of some agents and tour operators and barriers relating to key funding agencies, such as inappropriate guidelines, lack of knowledge of Aboriginal tourism and culture, and lack of coordination between the funding agencies.

Key needs of Aboriginal tourism operators identified in the Forum include:

Recommendations relating to the direct funding of Aboriginal Tour Operations

It is also worthwhile here to suggest the following recommendations relating to direct funding of Aboriginal Tour Operations. These are:

Aboriginal tourism case study

The award-winning Manyallaluk tourism enterprise is a part of a primarily community development project which is funded by ATSIC, under the Commonwealth Development Employment Program (CDEP). Manyallaluk is within Jawoyn land south of Katherine, though the Manyallaluk community comprises at least four different groups of people who are not traditional owners of the region. Through CDEP funding, the community has initiated many programs including a general works program, and building, buffalo, landscape, women's and tourism programs. The tourism program has evolved to become the biggest program, and the one around which the community is galvanised.

Murray Dennis, Manyallaluk's manager, believes the success of Manyallaluk is reflected in general social stability, some of the healthiest Aboriginal children in an Aboriginal community anywhere, education, a local store and a huge sense of pride, the value of which is inestimable (Dennis, pers com.). Apart from the funding received from ATSIC, part of the reason for Manyallaluk's success is clearly Mr Dennis' driving force. It is no secret that, amongst Aboriginal communities, significant initiatives are often driven by individuals (note also the Dhimurru initiative, begun by one senior traditional owner). If that person leaves, or leaves too soon to fully train others, then the momentum and initiative often fails (Dennis, pers com.).

Mr Dennis attributes the success of Manyallaluk to the fact that the community programs are very practical – very 'hands on' – and, most importantly, to the fact that the community is run like a business. For example, the Aboriginal people who build the community's houses are paid on a contractual basis and the community creche is run by salaried Aboriginal women.

The barriers to Manyallaluk's initiatives reflect the barriers presented in the Aboriginal Tour Operator's Forum and result from inflexibility of government funding agency guidelines and the related lack of education (Dennis, pers com.). For instance, Manyallaluk has been unable to receive funding for training because it does not meet government agency guideline requirements, which require a minimum number of people learning in a classroom situation.

Nevertheless, without the funding from ATSIC and other agencies, the Manyallaluk success story would not have come about at all. Indeed it is doubtful whether any Aboriginal tourism operation would be viable without subsidies of one sort or another. The same is true for non-Aboriginal small, nature-based and ecotourism operations where subsidisation comes from other enterprises or a spouse may take on a full-time job which subsides their partner who runs a small tourism operation. Given this, it is curious that small, nature-based tour operators, who are often the focus of efforts to extract resources for biodiversity conservation, are precisely those who cannot afford it. Subsidies may be seen as one significant incentive for running a tourism operation. It is to be hoped that in time such activities will become financially independent and viable as the scale of operation expands.

Potential incentive instruments and mechanisms

On pastoral land

From the above discussion regarding the Top End wetlands and the Kimberley, it is clear that pastoral lessees have an important role in managing tourism. In the Kimberley their role is fundamental to the development of appropriate access and infrastructure throughout the region. A suite of integrated incentives could be developed which encourages good management practices throughout the Kimberley and which can be tied to biodiversity conservation issues.

Some incentives can be demonstrated to have mutual benefits for land managers and the NBE industry, and at the same time protect biodiversity. For example, land clearing on a regional scale may be controlled through a system of tradeable permits, with prospects for landowners to earn offsets through improvement measures. Land rate concessions or reductions in lease payments can be given for agreed land management practices. Easements can be agreed to between government and landowners to allow rights of access by tourism operators. Performance bonds are an effective means of ensuring that the resources are available to rectify environmental damage, should it be caused by land users. A direct incentive can be introduced by awarding performance credits and lowering the amount of guaranteed finance, on the basis of demonstrated best practice.

Within a multiple-use conservation framework

Policy opportunity 1
Zoning to reduce threats to biodiversity

Zoning is a common method of protecting biodiversity within conservation reserves. Demands for particular types of activities can be matched to the natural attributes of the area. The concept of maximum carrying capacity is important. It varies according to the type of activity, potential environmental stresses and the resilience of the areas affected. Some zones may involve complete exclusion to the public.

Both the Mary River and Lower Adelaide River Concept plans are based on dividing the regions into different zones or precincts based hand-in-hand on tourism appeal and conservation. The six zones proposed for the Mary River are:

The Lower Adelaide River Concept proposes four 'tourism precincts':

Appendix One of this report states that zoning can be used in conjunction with other measures, such as offsetting arrangements, cross-compliance and development rights to create incentives. The zones outlined above are dependent on a number of other measures including management agreements, easements and covenants, permits and concessions.

Policy opportunity 2
Issue conditional permits and concessions to NBE industry

The natural attractions of an area provide the basis for significant financial returns to commercial operators. One means of covering management costs required for conservation management is to charge for concessions and permits to use the area. The price of such rights may be negotiated between park managers and private concessionaires, but may also be determined through an auction process. Concessions are being negotiated in the Lower Adelaide River Wetlands with certain lessees who wish to provide bungalow-style accommodation for tourists.

Policy opportunity 3
Finance for biodiversity conservation with user fees

User fees are another mechanism for obtaining funds for environmental protection in conservation reserves. Such fees may be paid per visit at entry gates, park headquarters or designated camping places. Alternatively, the charge may apply to an annual user permit. In terms of incentives, fees are charged for use of facilities in National Parks throughout the Kimberley and these pay for part of the cost of management (Kimberley Region Plan, 1990). One potential limitation of user fees is the cost of collection and enforcement. In remote areas with low visitation rates, the cost of collecting fees may exceed the amounts recovered. Private operators may be coopted to assist in this process. For example, in the lower Adelaide River wetland, the Conservation Commission is interested in providing a camp ground and it has been suggested that an arrangement can be reached whereby the adjacent pastoral lessee looks after the Parks' camping area in return for the right to collect and keep a proportion of the fees associated with camping. Such mechanisms are common in other Territory parks such as Litchfield National Park.

Policy opportunity 4
Management agreements

Management agreements may be drawn up between park managers and private land users, to the mutual benefit of both parties. In the Northern Territory, legally binding agreements with landholders may be entered under sections 73 (Aboriginal Land) and section 74 (non-Aboriginal Land) of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. Two management agreements have been negotiated in the region covered by the Wetlands concept. They allow an adjacent pastoralist (Woolner Station lessee) to graze on a Park only during the dry season. This activity – which has been the subject of considerable research that shows that grazing does not harm Magpie Geese breeding areas – will be subject to monitoring. In return, the pastoralist will not alter drainage on his lease, which holds important breeding and feeding areas for Magpie Geese, nor will he plant pasture grasses. He will also control the exotic weed, Mimosa pigra.

In the Kimberley a joint management option exists under section 16 of the Conservation and Land Management Act 1983. This section permits the Executive Director to enter into agreements with owners and people holding land leases to jointly manage the land for conservation purposes (Kimberley Region Plan, 1990).

Informal agreements exist in both the Top End and the Kimberley. For instance, on Carson River Station in the Kimberley, the lessee allows camping on the property for tourists who wish to access the adjacent Drysdale River National Park. The lessee charges a fee for camping, and also control-burns on the boundary between his property and the park, protecting both from wildfires (Mark Pittavino, WA CALM, pers com.).

Policy opportunity 5
Easements that provide public access to pastoral land

Easements offer benefits to the general public, such as access to natural areas or the protection of natural habitat, in return for some financial concession to private landowners, such as a payment, a reduction in lease rental, or other reward. A 'River Corridor Precinct' through Woolner Station is proposed in the Lower Adelaide River Concept. This is currently the subject of negotiation, the details of which are unavailable. The idea is that limited and strictly controlled access through Woolner Station to a remote 'wilderness and adventure precinct' will be obtained.

Incentives for biodiversity protection on Aboriginal land

Policy opportunity 6
Environmental eucation for Aboriginal people

It is easy to understand why biodiversity incentives would be buried under the weight of fundamental issues like Aboriginal identity, health and education. Perhaps the crux of the problem is the fact that the wider Australian community have an expectation that all Aboriginal people are inherently conservationists. That this is not the case is evident from the Manyallaluk experience, outlined above, where litter, and the unsustainable harvest of wildlife for food needs to be explained to the community (Dennis, pers com.). Mr Dennis, the community manager, considers that there is a great need for environmental education which, moreover, the community would welcome. Aboriginal perceptions of the land do not necessarily accord with biodiversity conservation objectives. For instance, feral animals, which are a major threat to biodiversity conservation in the Northern Territory, are not necessarily regarded as pests by Aboriginal people.

Where feral animals occur in large numbers and damage the country, Aboriginal people recognise the impact but generally do not connect such issues with a need to carry out special forms of management. In general, Aboriginal people do not understand the rationale for feral animal control programs. The effects of feral animals on the country are not seen as a cause for concern. It is seen as a natural phenomenon that animals eat the grass and raise a bit of dust. To separate the impact of feral animals from native species on these grounds is not seen as logical (Rose, 1995). Land use management and conservation issues should be part of education and training courses for NBE operations which are dependent on natural resources.

Policy opportunity 7
Consultative mechanisms with Aboriginal communities

Pastoralism itself is considered to be a traditional lifestyle by many Aboriginal people. That Aboriginal people who are pastoralists are open to advice on environment and land management is evidenced by the Bauhinia Downs agreement. This agreement established the Jandanku Conservation Committee under section 25 of the Conservation Commission Act which authorises the Conservation Commission to enter into formal agreement with any party to promote the Act's conservation objectives.

This section has been used recently to establish a consultative mechanism for the management of Bauhinia Downs which is known to support valuable conservation resources and bisects the area proposed for a major National Park. Traditional owners of the area have recently acquired the station, and while they are strongly committed to establishing a viable pastoral enterprise, some of the younger community members are interested in tourism. Their management needs, however, are as yet too poorly defined to permit implementation of explicit joint management arrangements. Accordingly, the agreement arranged, literally under a tree, seeks only to establish a consultative process to develop joint conservation plans for biologically important parts of the property (Peter Whitehead, pers com.). This looser arrangement better suits the needs of the Aboriginal managers and opens the way for biodiversity conservation of important areas.

Policy opportunity 8
NBE Management Agreements with Aboriginal communities

The Bauhinia example outlined above and the Dhimurru example outlined below open the way to the development of specific Management Agreements for nature-based and ecotourism.

Policy opportunity 9
Provision of extension services for NBE

Another example of Aboriginal people using the extension services of the CCNT to improve land management skills is provided by the Dhimurru Land Management initiative in eastern Arnhem Land (Peter Whitehead, pers com.). The history of the Dhimurru Land Management Association, comprising the traditional lands of 14 clan groups, began when a senior Traditional Owner visited the offices of the CCNT seeking advice for management problems in the Cape Arnhem region. These problems had come about because of the inappropriate recreational and tourism use by the residents of the mining township of Nhulunbuy, causing land degradation on the traditional lands.

Under an agreement likely to be executed shortly (Peter Whitehead, pers com.), the Conservation Commission will locate three staff with wildlife and park management skills in the region to work directly with the Association who have, in turn, also sent some of their young people to Batchelor College to train in land management. The Dhimurru initiative is subsidised by government funding, the people's own earnings through mining royalties, and newly instituted permit fees to enter Dhimurru-managed land.

The Dhimurru model is regarded as perhaps the most promising example of off-reserve management for conservation involving Aboriginal people. It is worthwhile pointing out that the essential ingredients of its success seem to be simply that the initiative arose from the people themselves, utilising the CCNT as an advanced extension service. In addition, the agreement struck between the CCNT and the Dhimurru Association is a simple, 'no frills' one, which has room to evolve. These two 'ingredients,' self-determination and flexibility, are at the heart of successful initiatives involving Aboriginal land and land management issues (Chris Hart, pers com., CCNT) which include NBE.

Policy opportunity 10
Demonstration effects

Examples that serve as demonstration projects can have valuable spin-offs to other Aboriginal communities. The benefits of improved knowledge and the proof that objectives can be achieved can act as powerful incentives for others to follow suit. One simple incentive for biodiversity conservation would be to use the Dhimurru model as a lighthouse for other communities to see.

Policy opportunity 11
Development of wildlife farming

The management of native animals for subsistence or commercial purposes is one means of attaching value to these species which can provide some additional incentive to maintain animal populations. Specific programs already under way include crocodile and marine turtle farming.

Policy opportunity 12
Awards systems

Manyallaluk Tours is the Northern Territory's, and Australia's, recognised leading cultural tour enterprise. It has won the Northern Territory's Brolga Award for Cultural Tourism three years running, from 1993 to 1995. In addition, it has recently won a Brolga Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism. In the national arena it has won an Australian Tourism Award in 1993 and 1994 (at publication of this report,the 1995 award had not yet been announced) for Cultural Tourism, and the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Award, 1994. These awards are achievements which have generated immense pride within the Manyallaluk community (Dennis, pers com.) and can easily be regarded as a significant incentive.

Preferred policy mix

This case study has investigated the use of incentives for the protection of biodiversity in the context of nature-based and ecotourism in the Top End, from three different perspectives: the dedication and management of conservation reserves; pastoral activity on private and public lands; and traditional land management on Aboriginal land.

In determining the preferred policy mix, an important objective is to maximise the level of biodiversity protection at minimum cost to government. The most cost-effective incentives that can be provided are those aimed at helping users of the natural environment to realise that proper management and protection of natural ecosystems can have significant commercial and social benefits. The benefits of NBE can supplement those from traditional activities, and may often exceed them. Educational programs and extension services are an effective means of achieving this objective.

Other incentives can yield mutual gains to government, tourism operators and land managers. Adoption of the user pays principle for National Parks in the form of entry fees, commercial permits and payment for management services and infrastructure, is one such mechanism. Part of the revenue can be appropriated for programs in environmental and biodiversity protection. While the dedication of areas specifically as National Parks can be expected to support a prosperous NBE industry, a long-term view may have to be taken to appropriate the full benefits. Stronger efforts should thus be made to strengthen incentives for off-reserve biodiversity conservation.

Where private interests have user rights on public land, for example for tourism or pastoral activity, revenue-sharing arrangements can be a positive incentive, particularly when linked to management plans and offsets for habitat improvement. Performance bonds, while not directly protecting the environment, can be designed to achieve continual improvement in land management practices. Other incentives may involve some financial loss by governments – such as rate concessions for the maintenance of natural habitats on private lands, reduced lease payments in exchange for prescribed habitat management practices, and direct grants for land improvement programs. There may be a case for initial subsidisation of certain kinds of activities, such as tourism or wildlife management based on Aboriginal culture, provided there are spin-offs by way of demonstration effects to encourage biodiversity conservation on a wider scale.


In many respects this case study, which focuses on a vast area of Australia, differs from the more confined areas of the other case studies. The problems of land management in the Top End and the Kimberley deal with diffuse, landscape-scale influences acting on a largely intact system, rather than on fragments of intact ecosystems embedded in a modified landscape. As a result of the largely intact nature of the area covered in this case study, and the contrasts of the wet/dry tropics, biodiversity values in this region are high. The ecological differences are accompanied by differences in culture and land use. For instance, a significant proportion of land comprises Aboriginal land and landscape-scale management occurs on pastoral lands. Incentives which relate to closely settled farmlands of eastern Australia have little relevance here and in other 'outback' areas of Australia.

While reservation of representative ecosystems is important to the conservation of biodiversity in the Top End and the Kimberley, equally important are conservation programs which operate on a large spatial scale. Existing programs and developing initiatives which involve a range of land users, such as the Greater National Parks and the Wetlands Tourism Zone concept of the Northern Territory, need to be supported and encouraged, and urgently developed for the Kimberley. Given the tourism-driven economy of the Northern Territory and increasingly of the Kimberley, NBE has a major role in ensuring the success of these initiatives.


The author would like to thank David James for his valuable contributions. A number of other people who gave of their time and offered their considerable expertise to provide important insights include, in no particular order, Mike Butler, Peter Whitehead, Peter Egan, Murray Dennis, Joc Schmiechen, John Koldowski, Christine Hart, Bill Panton, Ian Sinnamon, Freya Dawson, John Woinarski, Noel Preece and Mark Pittavino.


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