Buccaneer Archipelago, Kimberley, Western Australia - 15 June 2006 © Paul Gamblin / WWF-Aus

Buccaneer Archipelago, Kimberley, Western Australia © Paul Gamblin / WWF-Aus

The Kimberley

Even on a continent renowned for its distinctive species and settings, the Kimberley eclipses all expectations. From its weathered sandstone escarpments and tropical woodlands to its freshwater wetlands, coral reefs and extensive savannas, this ancient landscape is as spectacular as it is varied. And among its remarkable residents, some 65 species are found nowhere else on Earth.

The Kimberley's warm tropical waters are home to the distinctive snubfin dolphin, dugongs, rare marine turtles and corals rivalling those of the Great Barrier Reef. Its tidal mudflats annually sustain hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds. On land, the scaly-tailed possum, splendid tree frog and Kimberley mouse are unique, and golden bandicoots, greater bilbies and Gouldian finches find refuge. Who knows what else these rich and relatively undisturbed habitats may harbour?

For thousands of years the Kimberley has been the spiritual home of a large number of Indigenous Australians, who retain strong connections to country. Their cultural knowledge is crucial to ongoing land and sea management because splendid isolation has not spared the Kimberley modern-day threats. Large, uncontrolled, hot wildfires, feral species and an exploitative approach by big industry are  impacting upon the north’s rare habitats on land and at sea.

What we're doing

Our Kimberley program is two-pronged and culturally based. Our large threatened species program covers 10 species across 14 Indigenous ranger groups, as well as a marine program that aims to increase the coastal area protected under joint management.

We’re currently working with Indigenous rangers to safeguard the Kimberley rock-wallaby, bilby and Gouldian finch, and these strategic, scientifically-based collaborations are delivering solid conservation results. Over the past decade, we’ve helped to significantly expand protection for marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and we’ll continue to advocate for more Indigenous Protected Areas on land and sea.


Why it matters 

Northern Australia, including the Kimberley, has been recognised as one of the world’s last relatively undamaged coastal areas. A global treasure akin to the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Marine Park, the Kimberley features similar internationally significant ecological, scientific and cultural values.

The vast Kimberley marine environment extends north from Eighty Mile Beach and east to the Northern Territory border, covering an area of 630,000 square kilometres. It's one of the last remaining large and healthy refuges for many threatened and endangered species and includes the calving and nursery grounds of one of the largest humpback whale populations in the world. The region also supports a number of vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered shark species, six of the world’s seven marine turtle species, dugongs and inshore dolphins. Its extensive and extraordinarily diverse fringing coral reefs are part of one of the world's 18 hotspots for coral reef diversity. What more evidence can there be of the region’s global conservation significance?

If properly protected and managed, the Kimberley marine environment has the potential to be of lasting cultural and economic value, but it remains highly vulnerable.


Did you know?

The Kimberley marine area contains the largest humpback whale breeding ground in the world.

Thousands of waders covering the shoreline of Roebuck Bay, Kimberley, Western Australia © Alexander Watson / WWF-Aus


Up until now, the remoteness of this beautiful environment has been spared the impacts of habitat loss, pollution, land reclamation, overfishing, urbanisation, and oil and gas industry development that is so common elsewhere in Australia. However, just as the Kimberley is rising to national and international prominence, it’s attracting commercial interest, too. Gillnet fishing and industrialisation are now very real threats.

We support the WA Government’s Kimberley Conservation and Science Strategy and proposed Great Kimberley Marine Park initiative. Inspired by the Yawuru Traditional Owners' excellent efforts to remove gillnet fishing from Roebuck Bay, we’re working to extend the gillnet fishing ban to cover the entire Kimberley marine environment using a ‘conservation with equity’ process. Gillnet fishing is of little value to the Western Australian economy and yet threatens endangered sawfish, dugongs, dolphins and turtles.

We’re also calling for proposed and future Kimberley marine parks to be ‘world-class’ with respect to sanctuary zoning. Marine sanctuaries offer wildlife and their habitat full protection. They’ve been shown all over the world to increase fish size, populations and diversity, and fishers often benefit from improved catches in surrounding waters. Marine sanctuaries also boost the ability of coral reefs to resist coral bleaching and other impacts of climate change, and enhance tourism opportunities.

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