Kimberley Traditional Owners establish research agreement with WAMSI

The first of several legal research agreements between the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and Traditional Owners of the Kimberley has been signed paving the way for a consistent and respectful partnership approach to conducting marine science in the region.

The opportunity to develop a standard for conducting research projects within the Kimberley was welcomed by Traditional Owner groups who have had concerns about the way engagement and research has been approached previously in many circumstances.

“The Dambimangari Traditional Owners wanted to establish formal guidelines to oversee work in their land and sea country to make sure it is approached respectfully and properly,” Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation CEO Peter McCumstie said. “This agreement gives us confidence to engage more readily, providing the opportunity to share knowledge between researchers and Traditional Owners and a solid framework for future research. From this point on we don’t have to spend a lot of time on the legalities and administrative arrangements in each case, which allows us to focus on our shared goals and outcomes desired by scientists and Traditional Owners alike.“

The agreement, that will govern research in Dambimangari Sea Country, ensures that consistent steps are in place for project planning and consent, ranger and Traditional Owner involvement in fieldwork, management of intellectual property and publishing around sensitive information.  

The agreement encourages the Dambimangari people to assist researchers in current projects and also to work with them to identify and partner on future research. 

The Dambimangari rangers, established by Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation to look after land and sea country, are already working with WAMSI researchers on a number of projects.

The Dambimangari Determination Area is situated north of Derby and stretches east to the Prince Regent area, covering more than 1.4 million hectares. The marine areas or ‘sea country’ encompass the tropical waters of the Lalang-garram /Camden Sound Marine Park, an important nursery area for humpback whales. It includes Montgomery Reef, Australia’s largest inshore reef, and is where culturally important sea turtle, dugong and saltwater fish can be found. 

The research completed by WAMSI and the Dambimangari people will help inform the future adaptation of the Lalang-garram / Camden Sound Marine Park management plan.

“This is an important step forward in developing a solid working relationship with the custodians of the Kimberley coastline where WAMSI is undertaking 25 research projects funded by the WA government to support the marine initiatives in the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy,” WAMSI CEO Patrick Seares said.   

“The agreement signed by the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation covers nine projects and is the first to be approved in the region.  We’re now working through agreements with the Bardi Jawi community and the Kimberley Land Council to develop the same sort of consistent approach to conducting research in the area.

“It’s hoped that these agreements can be relied on to support future research along the Kimberley coastline making it easier and more efficient for both Traditional Owners and researchers to engage and get out on the water together,” Mr Seares said.  


The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley. 


Kimberley Marine Research Program