Aboriginal men in ceremonial garb dancing on the Dampier Peninsula

Three new marine parks announced for Buccaneer Archipelago in WA’s Kimberley region

The WA government has announced three new marine parks, covering thousands of kilometers of Kimberley coastline in Western Australia’s far north.

Formally released this morning, the Bardi Jawi Garra, Mayala and Maiyalam Marine Parks cover more than 600,000 hectares of the Buccaneer Archipelago.

In a first for Western Australia, the parks have been co-designed and will be jointly managed by the area’s Bardi Jawi, Mayala and Dambeemangarddee traditional owners.

The new parks cover waters surrounding the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, land and coastline to the north of Derby, and the thousands of islands that make up the Buccaneer Archipelago.

This island in Yaloon (Cone Bay) is part of the newly created Maiyalam Marine Park.(Supplied: Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions)

Through amalgamations with existing parks, the new reserve includes high-profile Kimberley locations such as Horizontal Falls and Yaloon on the shore of Cone Bay.

Speaking at this morning’s announcement in Broome, Bardi Jawi traditional owner Kevin George said the formal recognition was a significant step forward.

“We’ve got a duty of care to the environment, and a duty of care to our people,” he said.

“It’s very much important to our people to be part and parcel of designing all of this… and we’re pretty happy with the process.”

Dambimangari Corporation director Leah Umbagi said the park was an important recognition of her people’s connection with the sea.

A man and two women standing in front of blue water, all with Aboriginal corporation shirts on
Rowena Mouda, Kevin George, and Leah Umbagi at the signing on Sunday morning.(ABC Kimberley)

“By doing this in collaboration with the other groups … I think coming forward as a group as the saltwater people it’s a big [step] forward,” she said.

Mayala Inninalang Aboriginal Corporation chair Rowena Mouda said the cultural health of the coastline was imperative to the health of traditional owners.

“The cultural belonging, the cultural maintenance and preservation is so important. If we lose sight of that, then we’ve lost sight of our identity of who we are,” she said.

“With this process, there have been families that have returned to country for the first time.

“There’ve been families that have returned after many years and were able to plant their feet on that country, and we’ve seen healing take place with people who have not gone back to country since they were there as a child.

“There’s a healing in oneself, your body, your spirit, your mind that comes into play, and it’s hard to explain when you don’t have that belonging.”

Six people on an isolated beach a traditional smoking.
Dambeemangarddee traditional owners hold a smoking ceremony at Yaloon Bay.(Supplied: Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions)

Parks’ troubled birth

While the mood at today’s announcement was celebratory, the planning process for the marine parks had been divisive.

Draft plans to ban and restrict recreational fishing from nearly 40 per cent of the park were met with a tense reaction from local and statewide fishing groups, who argued they had been left out of the consultation process.

The government returned to the drawing board to consider their concerns, which ended in concessions including access to Dam Creek, the Graveyard, Kimbolton Creek, Strickland Bay, and areas of reef near the Cone Bay Barramundi Farm.

A large group of mostly men.
Broome fishing club members were briefed on the proposed marine park for the Buccaneer Archipelago.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Recfishwest chief executive Andrew Rowland says the government needed to learn lessons from the process.

“We were really disappointed with the original draft plan. The government essentially railroaded the process and fishers were excluded from putting in comment,” Dr Rowland said.

“We’re pleased fishers got to sit down with traditional owners following the draft plans, and we’ve now, as of today, seen a much better outcome for fishing.”

But conservation group Environs Kimberley dismissed concerns from the recreational fishers’ lobby about access restrictions.

“We’ve got a very balanced marine park,” Environs director Martin Prichard said.

“More than half of it is open to recreational fishers.”

Mr Pritchard said the co-design process involving traditional owners was a “shining light” for the rest of Australia when it came to designing conservation areas with Indigenous people.

“This is an outstanding win for conservation in the Kimberley and conservation in Australia,” he said.

“The thousand islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago have coral reef systems, seagrass beds, really productive river mouths, very important cultural areas.”

A man in a wide brim hat standing in front of a beach background
Martin Pritchard says the marine parks are a welcome first step in protecting at-risk parts of the Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

Mr Pritchard said the group was now lobbying for the state government to extend protections to more areas of the Kimberley coast.

“What we’ve got left now is an opportunity for the McGowan government to actually put the whole of the Kimberley coast in a marine park,” he said.

“What we would have would be the Great Kimberley Marine Park to rival the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

One million hectares protected

Environment Minister Reece Whitby said he understood the concerns of fishing groups but said he made no apologies for the government’s commitment to the co-design process.

“All stakeholders are involved, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“The traditional owners have said that they’ve found time to listen to the commercial fishers, the recreational fishers, and the other users of this country.

“It needs to be managed in a way that everyone’s interests are taken note of. There will be areas that are set aside in terms of zones to protect conservation values ​​and Aboriginal heritage values.

Minister Tony Buti and Reece Whitby watch on as two Mayala representatives sign papers
Traditional owners sign official marine park declarations at an event on Sunday.(ABC Kimberley)

“But there are zones also that acknowledge that this is about recreation, it’s about tourism, it’s about commercial businesses.

“My experience with commercial operators is that they actually want this environment protected for the long term so that their industry is sustainable — the best way to do that is with the marine park where the conservation estate is recognised and protected.”

As part of the government’s plan, a sector support package will be provided to commercial support, charter, and recreational fishers operating in the park and impacted by its boundaries.

“[The package] will be developed with the community to ensure the continuation of sustainable fisheries, high-quality fishing experiences, and support for local industries,” Fisheries Minister Don Punch said.

Sunset over a bay and islands.
Cascade Bay is a popular destination for recreational fishers in the archipelago.(ABC Kimberley: Ben Collins)

The creation of the parks also marks a key milestone for the McGowan government, with more than 1 million hectares of new conservation estate established since it took office in 2017.

The government has set a target of 5 million hectares in total.

The three marine parks’ borders take effect on July 1, 2023.

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