By Georgia Palmer
In the Northern Territory of Australia lies a protected area known as Kakadu.
Within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory of Australia, Kakadu is located. It is 171km southeast of Darwin plus it covers an area of 19,804 km2, extending nearly 200 kilometres from north to south and over 100 kilometres from east to west. It is the size of Slovenia, about one-third the size of Tasmania or nearly half the size of Switzerland.
The Kakadu area has been inhabited by the Aboriginal people for over 40 000 years. It is an area that is well known for its cultural history with more than 5 000 recorded Aboriginal art sites. These sites demonstrate Aboriginal occupation and their cultural experiences over thousands of years.
The Kakadu National Park was placed on the internationally recognised UNESCO World Heritage List for its outstanding cultural and natural values. Kakadu was listed in three stages: stage 1 in 1981, stage 2 in 1987, and the entire park in 1992.
Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, ownership of approximately half of Kakadu lays with the Aboriginal people, and with the remaining proportion being under Aboriginal claim.
The Aboriginal people have leased their land by the traditional owners to the Director of National Parks. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, all of Kakadu is declared a national park and is managed by the Director of National Parks.
Approximately 500 Aboriginal people live in the park, many traditional owners of various clan groups from the Kakadu country. Although their lifestyles have modernised, the importance of their traditional customs and beliefs have remained.
Kakadu has more than 1700 recorded palnt species making it one of the richest areas in Northern Australia. This is due to the park's geological, landform and habitat diversity.
683 000 hectares of Kakadu wetlands are protected due to international importance. Only 5.7% of the recorded plant species are weeds and therefore its considered to be one of the most weed free national parks in the world.
Each of the different habitats have their own unique flora. The Savannah Woodlands are mainly covered in eucalypt-dominated open woodland with the ground layer consisting of a large range of grasses including spear grass, sedges and wildflowers.
The Stone Country due to its extreme heat and long dry spells followed by periods of torrential rain, means that 'resurrection grasses' that are able to cope with these conditions are dominate. Within the cool moist gorges of the stone country, monsoonal forests are found. Because the Floodplains and billabongs are wet for several months of the year, they consist of freshwater mangroves, paper bark trees, sedges and many varieties of water lilies.
The tidal flats and coastline cover almost 500 square kilometres and are dominated by mangrove swamps (39 of the 47 Northern Territory species of mangrove occur in Kakadu) and samphire flats, which are important for stabilising the coastline. On the tidal flats behind the mangroves, hardy succulents (samphire), grasses and sedges grow. Isolated pockets of monsoon forest grow along the coast and river banks. These forests contain several impressive trees, among them the banyan fig, which can be recognised by its large, spreading aerial roots, and the kapok tree, which has a spiny trunk, large, waxy red flowers and pods full of cotton-like material. The southern hills and ridges support several plants that are not found anywhere else in the world. One example is the Eucalyptus koolpinensis near Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge).