State: WA | Hectares: 312,000 | IUCN Category: II | Partners: Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Mornington sanctuary is Australia's largest non-government protected area, covering 312,00 hectares of the upper catchment of the Fitzroy River as well as sections of the rugged King Leopold Ranges. The sanctuary lies in the heart of the Central Kimberley bioregion, which is recognised as one of the world's last true wilderness areas.
The Fitzroy River and King Leopold Ranges dominate the sanctuary's spectacular gorges and tropical savannah. With more than 200 birds, nearly 100 reptiles and amphibians and 35 mammal species, Mornington is a hotspot for the threatened wildlife of northern Australia.
This is breathtaking country but much of it is under pressure from feral animals, weeds, overgrazing and altered fire patterns. To protect Mornington's outstanding natural values, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) purchased the property in 2001, with help from the Australian Government's National Reserve System Program.
Sanctuary manager Sarah Legge says since acquiring Mornington, the AWC has made a lot of changes to the way it is managed.
"We've removed cattle from large parts of the property to let native vegetation recover and we've set up an ongoing program to tackle weeds and reduce the size and frequency of fires," she says.
As well as being a valuable inventory of the habitats on the property, the team's vegetation map helps to identify which areas of the property are likely to support threatened species and guides management decisions.
The vegetation survey is just one of the projects run out of Mornington's new WildlifeLink Research and Conservation Centre, the only field research centre in the Kimberley. The centre is attracting scientists from all over the world to investigate a range of ecological questions, including how best to manage the significant populations of threatened animals and plants found in the region.
"The sanctuary offers a rare opportunity to conduct large-scale, long-term research on critical environmental issues," Sarah says. "Scientists are studying issues like the effect of different fire regimes, cattle grazing and habitat degradation on key animal species and groups."
AWC runs a visitor program at Mornington, with interpretive walking trails, guided tours, slideshows and a resource centre helping to raise awareness of the plight of northern Australia's biodiversity. Visitors come from across the country to stay in the campground and luxury tented accommodation of the Mornington Wilderness Camp.
As a hub of management and research activity, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary is an excellent example of how the National Reserve System helps to ensure the long-term survival of Australia's unique animals and plants and the landscapes in which they live.
Mornington has been recognised as Australia's top non-government reserve of the decade, picking up the WWF-Australia award in late 2006 for its outstanding contribution to the National Reserve System. AWC was also honoured in 2006 as the Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year.