Literature Review: The ecological, cultural and social values associated with aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia

Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2013


Executive Summary

  1. Similarities between ecological and cultural and social values associated with water include:
    1. Healthy water sources, including rivers that maintain a natural flow regime, are important for maintaining the ecological and cultural and social values of water resources,
    2. A decline in the ecological condition of an aquatic asset often results in the erosion of associated social and cultural values,
    3. Permanent water sources, groundwater sources and estuaries generally have very significant ecological and social and cultural values.
  2. Differences between ecological and cultural and social values associated with water include:
    1. Social and cultural values may be attached to a place or water related object in the landscape that is not recognised for its ecological value,
    2. Many social and cultural values are intangible and may not align with the tangible ecological values of a water resource. These values are encoded in mythology, belief systems and ethics and thus may not have a specific geographic reference point,
    3. Ecological and social and cultural values that are considered significant by one group may not be considered in the same way by other groups across northern Australia,
    4. The scale at which ecological values are indentified and managed does not always align with the scale at which cultural values are perceived.
  3. Flexible and responsive approaches to water management and planning in northern Australia are key to ensuring the diversity of cultural values and interests are accounted for (Altman et al. 2009). Achieving this will involve effective engagement with Indigenous communities in water management and planning, the use of Indigenous knowledge in water management decisions and taking into consideration the complex interconnections and conceptual differences between ecological values and cultural values in, for example, the setting of management regimes such as flow regimes.