TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Tropical Rivers in Australia and Customary Resource Use: Putting People into Flow-ecology Relationships

TitleTropical Rivers in Australia and Customary Resource Use: Putting People into Flow-ecology Relationships
Publication TypeConference Participation
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsFinn, MA, Jackson, S
Keywords2: Assets and Values

Water resources in northern Australia's tropical areas are relatively undeveloped in comparison to other parts of Australia. However, as water scarcity becomes a prevalent issue there is increasing demand for water in Australia's north for agriculture, mining and urban water supply. There is potential for the relatively intact aquatic ecosystems of northern Australia to be altered by anthropogenic impacts ranging from climate change to flow alteration through water extraction. Aboriginal people make up a large proportion of the population of northern Australia, especially in more remote areas away from major urban centres. Harvest and consumption of wild resources such as fish and plants (customary use) from aquatic habitats can make up a substantial part of Aboriginal livelihoods, forming the basis of indigenous dependence on "healthy" and functioning tropical rivers and other waterbodies. Environmental flow assessment methods in Australia largely focus on ecological requirements of river systems and do not directly incorporate social requirements, and human needs are sometimes viewed as directly competing with the protection of biodiversity and other conservation values. This paper argues that strategies aimed at achieving sustainable water resource development such as environmental flow assessments need to incorporate the requirements of Aboriginal people to be considered successful. A year of data will be presented on household consumption of aquatic resources from Aboriginal communities on two river systems in northern Australia; the Daly River (NT) and the Fitzroy River (WA) to quantify the value of customary use from these rivers, and suggest a number of challenges to contemporary environmental flow assessment that, if met, should improve the ability of environmental flow assessments in Australian tropical rivers to protect Aboriginal values.