New Marine Park in Australia's Northern Territory Protects a Flourishing Ecosystem

Limmen Bight designation also promises economic gain for Indigenous Marra communities

New Marine Park in Australia's Northern Territory Protects a Flourishing Ecosystem
Limmen Bight Marine Park
The Roper River opens into the Gulf of Carpentaria, marking the boundary of the new Limmen Bight Marine Park.
Paul Arnold/Australian Marine Conservation Society

At the top of Australia, a new marine park has won approval—the first in the Northern Territory in more than 30 years—at Limmen Bight.

Located at the mouth of the Roper River in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Limmen Bight is an extraordinarily productive marine ecosystem, fueled by three big river systems that push vast amounts of nutrients into the sea. This provides food for huge nursery grounds for many important commercially fished species including prawns, barramundi, and mudcrabs. The marine park is only the second designated in the Northern Territory, following Cobourg Marine Park, which was created in 1983.

At Limmen Bight, the shallow seabed is covered by rich seagrass meadows that host herds of grazing dugong and sea turtles. Two islands, Maria and Beatrice, are fringed with corals and sponges that provide rich habitat for many fish species.

These waters are home to the Indigenous Marra people who have cared for the sea country for millennia. The Marra have a rich cultural history here, one that includes many songlines, dreamtime stories and important sacred sites. The marine park provides the Marra and the Northern Territory government the opportunity to safeguard the unique cultural, conservation and fishing lifestyle values of this iconic region. 

The creation of this park should improve management and protection of the marine environment while supporting Aboriginal economic development and fishing, boosting nature-based tourism, and safeguarding the area’s unique marine wildlife. It also puts a stop to proposed seabed mining within the park, which could have decimated marine life, polluted waters and threatened recreational fishing.

The Limmen Bight Marine Park extends out into the Gulf to the point where it joins up with the Federal Limmen Marine Park, which was finalized in 2018—creating an overall area of marine protection of 2,283 square kilometres (881 square miles).

The Pew Charitable Trusts and local partners, through the Keep Top End Coasts Healthy alliance, has worked with local communities, stakeholders and the Northern Territory government to help make this marine park a reality.

Michelle Grady leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ marine conservation work in Australia.