Thriving on Country

Queensland Indigenous Land Conservation Project

This project sees First Nations Peoples, Greening Australia and BHP/BMA collaborating to heal Country in the Great Barrier Reef catchments, and co-design opportunities for sustainable employment and enterprise in the restoration economy.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been custodians of Sea Country for over 60,000 years, and the Great Barrier Reef and its catchments continue to support their culture and way of life.

‘Sea Country’ isn’t just a geographical area, it includes all living things, beliefs, values, creation stories, spirits and cultural obligations associated with it (learn more).

The Queensland Indigenous Land Conservation Project brings together the unique cultural knowledge and expertise of Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities and Western knowledge to heal Sea Country, rebuild eroding land and restore vital coastal wetlands.

The Challenge

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had been custodians of Sea Country in the Great Barrier Reef catchments for tens of thousands of years prior to the arrival of European settlers. The ancient sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and their ancestral ties to the land were subsequently not acknowledged, understood or respected (learn more).

This dispossession and disconnection from Sea Country directly impacted and continues to impact the health, wellbeing and culture of Indigenous peoples in the catchment. Even today, the Traditional Custodians’ aspirations for Country are often not fully considered in planning processes.

The health and wellbeing of the Great Barrier Reef is also under threat. Since 1985, the Reef has lost 50% of its coral cover due to climate change and poor water quality from land-based run-off. More than 10 million tonnes of sediment from eroded gullies flow onto the Reef every year, smothering corals and seagrass, creating algal blooms, feeding Crown-of-Thorns Starfish outbreaks, degrading water quality, and weakening the Reef’s ability to recover.

Over 50% of coastal wetlands have also been lost, along with their capacity to filter pollutants from the water before it reaches the Reef lagoon.

The Solution

There is scientific consensus that accelerating local action on improving water quality is one of the most effective ways to safeguard the health of the Reef.

Greening Australia and BHP/BMA are focused on partnering with Indigenous communities to improve water quality for the Reef, learning from each other through this project, to develop best practice, sustainable methods of healing and managing Country.

The millenia of experience gained by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples brings invaluable science, methodology and innovation to the challenges we face as a nation in supporting the Great Barrier Reef to thrive.

By combining this age-old wisdom with some of our own proven methods for stopping sediment at the source, together we can take important practical steps to improve the health of the Reef and strengthen its resilience to the changing climate. We’ll collaborate to manage land sustainably, fix eroding gullies, and restore and reconnect rivers and wetland ecosystems to the Reef.

Improving water quality and biodiversity is reconciliation and connection in action. It brings together the expertise of landholders, Indigenous groups, Landcare groups, businesses and local communities to reconnect culture and country, rivers and Reef, people and nature.

At the same time we aim to co-create social, economic and environmental opportunities that are sustained and resilient. Our vision for the long-term sustainability of this project and for the health of the Reef includes creating pathways to skills, employment and enterprise opportunities in consultation with our Indigenous community partners.

To ensure the long-term viability of the project, we are exploring innovative environmental financing to encourage investment in conservation land management and promote economic resilience for Indigenous communities.

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We are working with two groups in the Great Barrier Reef catchments so far and will seek out consultative community engagement as the project continues.

In the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, 171 kilometres south-west of Rockhampton, we’ve formed the Woorabinda Project Reference Group with representatives from the Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council, Woorabinda Pastoral Company, BHP/BMA, Greening Australia, the Gaangalu Nation, Barada Kabalbara Yetimarala People and Wadja People. The project reference group are working on establishing a ranger program that will create local jobs, heal country and allow rangers to live and work in Woorabinda.


On Barada Barna country, south-west of Mackay and north-west of Rockhampton, we are collaborating with the Barada Barna Aboriginal Corporation to co-design and develop strategies to manage and protect on-country priorities and cultural assets through healthy country/management plans. The Barada Barna Project Reference Group has developed a site management plan for local ecologically and culturally significant wetlands. As the project progresses, we’ll be developing further healthy country/management plans for additional sites on Barada Barna country, and implementing projects identified.


An exciting component of the project is exploring innovative environmental financing to ensure the long-term viability of the project, avenues which will encourage investment in conservation land management and promote economic resilience for Indigenous communities. For a start, we’ve assessed opportunities for carbon projects on properties managed by our Indigenous community partners, and will discuss next steps for feasibility over the coming months.

This project is jointly funded by Greening Australia’s Reef Aid program, BHP and BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA). For more information about the project, please feel free to send us your query online.