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What is an Indigenous Protected Area?

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) are areas of land and sea that Traditional Owners have agreed to manage and protect, conserving biodiversity and cultural values in line with Traditional Owner objectives.

When Traditional Owners enter into an Indigenous Protected Area agreement with the Commonwealth Government, both parties negotiate and agree to an environmental and cultural plan specific to that country. Work typically includes clearing weeds, trapping feral animals, protecting rock art, working with researchers, managing burning regimes to avoid wildfires, and welcoming visitors.

As of March 2024, there were:

  • 84 dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas managed by First Nations people
  • 87 million hectares of land covered by the Indigenous Protected Areas
  • 5 million hectares of sea covered by the Indigenous Protected Areas.

Visit this interactive map showing the location of Indigenous Protected Areas, their administering bodies, and First Nations ranger groups in Australia.












There is also a Sea Country Indigenous Protected Areas Program which aims to increase the area of sea in Indigenous Protected Areas to strengthen the conservation and protection of Australia’s marine and coastal environments.

The Indigenous Protected Area program is jointly administered by DCCEEW (Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water) and NIAA (National Indigenous Australians Agency). It was co-designed in 1997 by the Australian Government and First Nations groups.



First Nations rights recognised in Indigenous Protected Areas

First Nations rights are recognised to various extents in all four Australian Government recognised broad categories of protected area governance:

  1. governance by government (e.g. national and marine parks)
  2. shared governance (e.g. formal ‘joint’ management)
  3. private governance (e.g. nature trusts and reserves)
  4. governance by Indigenous peoples and local communities (e.g. ‘community’; Indigenous Protected Areas, or IPAs).

Indigenous Protected Areas provide a framework for Traditional Owners to plan, dedicate, govern and manage their customary estate, via a combination of ‘legal and other effective means’.

Participation in an Indigenous Protected Area is voluntary. Indigenous Protected Areas don’t change ownership or control of land, but rather support First Nations communities to voluntarily manage their land as protected areas. 

‘Legal’ mechanisms that may support Traditional Owner management of Indigenous Protected Areas include:

  • legal ownership of lands
  • Indigenous customary resource use rights enshrined in legislation
  • protection of sacred sites and other cultural sites and areas through cultural heritage legislation
  • protection of significant species and habitats through biodiversity conservation and natural resource management legislation.

Other tools and mechanisms by which Traditional Owners manage Indigenous Protected Areas include:

  • management planning processes (including Healthy Country Planning, based on Indigenous cultural values and governance)
  • establishing Indigenous land and sea management ranger groups (see Indigenous Ranger programs)
  • partnering with government agencies, nongovernment organisations, neighbouring ranger groups, landowners, philanthropists and natural resource stakeholders. 

Indigenous Protected Areas now represent more than 50% of Australia's National Reserve System. Indigenous Protected Areas are recognised by the Australian Government as an important part of the National Reserve System (NRS), a network of formally recognised parks, reserves and protected areas across Australia and complementary to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas



Indigenous Protected Area Grants

Australia’s State of the Environment report (2021) found there is a strong need for capability, governance and adequate resourcing of Indigenous Protected Areas, and that the government needs to respect and support First Nations agency and control: economic, social and cultural, while factoring in the varied Indigenous estates that include land and sea Country beyond Indigenous Protected Areas.

The Australian Government is providing $231.5 million over 5 years until 30 June 2028 to continue and improve the Indigenous Protected Area program to support First Nations people’s right to self-determination under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and to play a key role in achieving Australia's 30 by 30 target as part of its obligations under the Global Biodiversity Framework.



Global Diversity Framework and other international initiatives

The Indigenous Protected Areas program aims to contribute towards achieving Australia's international obligations under the Global Biodiversity Frameworkincluding the target to protect and conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the world’s marine areas by 2030 (30 by 30).

The Australian Government adopted this global 30 by 30 target for Australia.

The government has signed up to a range of additional international initiatives aligned with the proposed action-oriented targets in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

These include: