Addressing Kakadu’s strategic research needs

Project start date: 18/07/2022
Project end date: 31/12/2023
NESP funding: $300,000 (GST-exclusive)

The Indigenous-owned lands of Kakadu National Park are World Heritage-listed and globally significant. The natural and cultural values of Kakadu are at risk from a range of threats that are only increasing and intensifying over time. To manage these threats, there is a pressing need to develop a Kakadu research strategy that will provide guidance on both what research is required in Kakadu and how that research should be conducted. This project will also provide the foundation for a co-designed program of research for other hubs of the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) and their respective cross-cutting initiatives.

Kakadu National Park is one of the few places in the world that is World Heritage-listed for both natural and cultural values. This includes Ramsar-listed wetlands that support rich biodiversity, including many threatened species in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems. Kakadu is also listed as a priority place in the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Action Plan 2022–2032.

Some of the threats facing Kakadu include:

  • weeds such as para grass, olive hymenachne, salvinia, mimosa and gamba grass
  • feral pigs that cause immense damage to wetlands
  • feral cats that prey upon many species, particularly threatened mammal species found in woodlands and on stone country
  • altered fire regimes
  • saltwater intrusion.

These pressures threaten the natural values of the landscape as well as cultural values, including bush-tucker species and art sites.

To respond to these pressures, management decisions need to be based on the best available evidence and information. Kakadu has more than 60,000 years of Bininj/Mungguy knowledge to draw upon, as well as 40 years of non-Indigenous research. Past research in Kakadu was not always driven by the needs of the park, so to identify new information required, monitor changes in park values, and manage these threats to natural and cultural values, there is a need to:

  • synthesise existing information on risks to Kakadu’s values
  • identify critical knowledge gaps
  • establish priorities for new research.

This project will improve management of Kakadu’s World Heritage-listed values.

Key research areas

To address the challenge of managing Kakadu and supporting park managers (both Traditional Owners and Parks Australia staff) to maintain the World Heritage-listed natural and cultural values, this project is:

  • supporting the Kakadu Indigenous Research Committee to update Bininj/Mungguy research priorities and Kakadu research protocols
  • developing a draft research strategy for Kakadu National Park that addresses both short-term and long-term priorities
  • facilitating meetings between Bininj/Mungguy Traditional Owners, Parks Australia research users and NESP researchers to co-design a set of NESP projects across the 4 hubs, collectively forming the NESP Kakadu ‘flagship’ project for the cross-cutting initiatives.
  • Jatbula Hunter and Ryan Burrowei setting up cameras to help monitor country at Jarrangbarnmi. Photo by Michael Douglas.
  • Traditional Owners, Kakadu staff and researchers assess maps to plan effective research and management in Kakadu. Photo by Michael Douglas.
  • Looking out over the Nardab floodplain, an important site for Kakadu's cultural and environmental values. Photo: Microsoft.
  • Map of Kakadu National Park. Image: Resilient Landscapes Hub.