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Environment and livelihoods

Research stories

Conservation on campus – improving wildlife habitat on Casuarina campus with CDU facilities

environment livelihood story

Joining forces to make a difference on campus, CDU Facilities (in collaboration with the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihood (RIEL) and CDU’s VET Industry Schools), has made substantial efforts to enhance habitat for wildlife in our Casuarina campus:

  • Nestboxes are providing artificial tree hollows for possums and endangered black-footed tree-rats (collaboration with RIEL researcher Dr Leigh-Ann Woolley, who is conducting nestbox studies in the NT)
  • Previously weed-infested areas have been revegetated with native plants (food and habitat plants for black-footed tree-rats in natural savanna woodlands selected and donated by Greening Australia/Land for Wildlife Top End led by Emma Lupin (a CDU Environmental Science graduate) and planted by CDU’s VET Conservation and Land Management students) and
  • An open storm water drainage system on the strand between our Pink and Yellow buildings (collaboration with VET Automotive & Civil’s Barry Whalan and his students) is attracting fantastic Top End bird life to the Casuarina campus and its surrounds – a pair of Jabirus are regularly spotted using the waterway.

Thanks to Jonathan Gibson and Susan Penfold from CDU’s Facilities Management team for an excellent effort, drawing on skills and experience at CDU to come up with collaborative and inspired solutions on campus!

Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research


Research was undertaken by the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research (DCBR) within RIEL, in partnership with Indigenous organisations and CSIRO, generates income and employment from generating carbon credits across large sections of northern Australia. This research has led to the world’s first prescribed savanna burning technique for reducing carbon emissions and claiming carbon abatement off-sets (SavBAT). The SavBAT methodology was first adopted into Australian regulations in 2012. The regulations allow SavBAT methodologies to be used to create carbon credits that can be sold to the Australian government through the Emissions Reduction Fund mechanism which:

  • has resulted in 5.3 million Australian Carbon Credit Units issued to date, 76% of which have been allocated to Indigenous organisations.
  • Supports the management of 300,000 km2 of land;
  • Generates $16M pa in carbon payments, mostly to remote Indigenous communities.

Historically, the fire regime across tropical north Australia is dominated by large, late dry season wildfires that release methane and nitrous oxide into the air, which are strong greenhouse gases. Under methodology pioneered by DCBR and partners, and adopted by the Commonwealth and Aboriginal organisations, emissions from savanna fires are reduced by:

  • shifting burning from the late dry season towards the early dry, and
  • reducing the area that is burnt each year.

The income earned through claiming carbon credits has allowed Aboriginal organisations to self-fund Indigenous ranger programs. The flow on benefits have been estimated at tens of millions of dollars per annum in reducing welfare support payments, health care costs, and damage from wildfires. Pastoralists make significant annual savings by using tools developed by DCBR.

DBCR has developed the Northern Australian Fire Information (NAFI) tool that is updated daily to display information from satellites showing recent fire activity across 90% of Australian rangelands. NAFI is now regarded as an essential service in northern Australia and is used by 50,000 land managers.



Envirocollective is a CDU student-led organisation, open to CDU students, staff and community members. We aim to raise awareness on environmental matters and promote positive attitude change through connection, education and inspiration.

Envirocollective was started in 2009 by environmental science students, and since that time has been actively involved in many activities on campus, including the establishment of the Lakeside Drive Community Gardens near the CDU Casuarina campus. Throughout the years conservation work has been carried out on the bush block at the back of the campus, through weeding, revegetation, toad busting and small mammal habitat restoration. In addition to this there has been encouragement of sustainable transport through cycling to campus initiatives and involvement in developing the sustainability plan at CDU.

We aim to support students through connecting them with volunteering and networking opportunities, educating them on environmental issues and work that is being done in the local community, as well as inspiring each other to follow our passions.  In addition to this, we welcome CDU staff and wider community members to join us, and offer a range of activities and events for all people who are invested in our environment and sustainability to get involved.

If you would like to stay updated on our activities and events, like the Facebook page Enviro Collective CDU. To become a member, email

Sustainable Land Sector Development in Northern Australia

jeremy rs

Charles Darwin University’s Prof Jeremy Russell-Smith, and Dr Kamaljit Sangha have co-authored a book on “Sustainable Land Sector Development in Northern Australia: Indigenous rights, aspirations, and cultural responsibilities”, which addresses Indigenous equity and access in Northern Australian land sector development. They set out a vision for developing North Australia based on a culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable land sector economy. This vision supports both Indigenous cultural responsibilities and aspirations, as well as enhancing enterprise opportunities for society as a whole. In the past, well-meaning if often misguided policy agendas have failed - and continue to fail - North Australians.

Prof Russell-Smith and Dr Sangha aims to help breach the existing gap by acknowledging and harnessing Indigenous cultural strengths and knowledge systems for looking after the country and its people, as part of a smart, novel and diversified ecosystem services economy. They identify an urgent need to have a serious and sincere policy-based conversation that involves all stakeholders in the region which recognises what Indigenous land owners envision and developing durable partnerships towards, achievement of sustainable economic development.

“North Australia inspires many competing narratives about its future – historically as an (inescapable) destroyer of grand visions; more recently as a globally significant ‘food bowl’ irrigated by limitless water, and as a rich quarry and gas producer delivering great benefits despite regulatory challenges. It is also the site of extraordinarily valuable natural and cultural assets that warrant special protection, and, outside a few affluent urban enclaves, it is a place of enduring human poverty, and social dysfunction.”  The economic emphasis on the pastoral industry on mostly marginally pastoral lands, essentially above a line extending from Townsville to Broome, ignored the opportunity to explore a greater diversification of industries in the region that could offer sustainable and equitable social and economic outcomes.

CRC Funded Wild Rice Initiatives by the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods

CRC Funded wild rice

CDU’s researchers Sean Bellairs and Penny Wurm from our Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL) are involved in two CRC funded projects to support the foundation of the Northern Australia rice sector. 

The CRC for Northern Australia project, which is led by QAAFI with about 7 partners is a situational analysis for the development of northern rice – from wild harvest by Indigenous enterprises through to using genes from native species to develop new varieties of Asian rice (and options in between). We are currently looking at milling technology for the specific requirements of native rice grains and at the collection permits, benefit sharing agreements and materials transfer agreements that will be required to develop products based on native rice.

The CRC for Future Food Systems project, which is led by CDU, with partners NTDPIR and Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours will involve agronomic trials, milling and threshing trials, product development, product development and capacity building, supply chain development, studies in situ provenance etc.

These projects will support

  • New product development in Indigenous enterprises and communities
  • Diversification in agriculture in northern Australia
  • Development of local Indigenous and other enterprises by identifying and developing suitable local, national and international supply chains
  • Valuing and use of native species for dietary and economic reasons

Communities & Livelihoods

communities lifelihood

The Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL) conducts internationally recognised impact-orientated environmental and livelihoods research. Our Communities and Livelihoods research is aimed at enhancing the wellbeing and sustainability of Indigenous and regional communities in Australia and near the Asia-Pacific region.

Through collaboration and capacity building, RIEL strives to make a real-world impact and benefit the environment and communities with whom we engage.

Our research strengths include:

  • Working with Indigenous communities to strengthen land and sea management outcomes;
  •  Engaging with Indigenous people and local communities to contribute to biodiversity conservation;
  •  Understanding how Indigenous communities will be affected by climate change;
  •  Researching the benefits that threatened species conservation can deliver to people globally;
  •  Supporting natural resource-based enterprises in aquaculture, fisheries and plant production in remote Indigenous communities;
  • Rehabilitation of blue carbon habitats and livelihoods.
  •  Contributing to the sustainability of ecosystem services for the benefit of Indigenous communities and livelihoods in Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
  •  Implementing a world-first program for a savanna burning carbon industry in northern Australia;
  •  Developing digital technologies to improve the livelihoods of local communities in the Asia-Pacific.

Our researchers offer specialist knowledge and advice in the following areas:

  • Restoration, rehabilitation and collaborative management of mangroves;
  •  Capacity building for natural resources management in terrestrial and marine environments;
  • Participatory land and sea management;
  • Gender, food security and rural livelihoods; and
  • Natural resource-based enterprise development.


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