The Indigenous Estate covers nearly 80% of Northern Australia.

This vast resource should bestow boundless economic, social and cultural advantages. However, these have not been realised to any significant extent, in large part, due to inadequate research into Country and culture-based economic opportunities, and associated ecosystem science. This is largely due to both under-representation of Indigenous researchers in the mainstream organisations, and limited access to the processes of research prioritisation and design.

The goal of this project was to understand how to remedy this situation within the NESP research community, and more broadly.

Approach and findings


By reviewing documents relevant to Australia’s marine and coastal environments, the project’s Indigenous researchers collated the associated research priorities of Indigenous communities and organisations. In addition, they considered the expert contributions of around 80 attendees of the Australian Marine Association’s 2022 Indigenous Workshop.

Specifically, perspectives were sought on: research topics supportive of potential economic and other benefits; co-design of projects and priorities; research participation; and, a proposed National Indigenous Environmental Research Network (NIERN) to champion and progress Indigenous interests.


Indigenous peoples’ research priorities fitted within four themes:

  1. governance and decision-making;
  2. data collection and management;
  3. restoration of coastal ecosystems; and
  4. economic development.

There was also consensus that Indigenous organisations and communities do not solely seek the products of research, they wish to be intimately involved by: identifying, developing and implementing research projects; training young, Indigenous researchers; and, integrating cultural knowledge within new science approaches. There was also a universal aspiration for the respectful inclusion of cultural protocols in all research and management-associated decision-making.

A NIERN comprising a community of Indigenous-led practitioners was considered the best way forward to enable and prescribe research participation, influence the Australian research agenda, and oversee relevant governance.


The specific issues of concern to Indigenous communities and managers are diverse and often specific to the local situation. Universally, they seek real inclusion in all stages of research, and respect for culture and knowledge.

The proposed NIERN provides a practice-model for identification and progression of the next steps. Not only will it meet Indigenous peoples’ scientific, and research needs, it will facilitate the realisation of much needed economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits.


  • Research approaches defined to support Indigenous peoples’ planning and management.
  • Indigenous people supported to build a better future for communities.

Project location