Silica Sand Dunes

Wuthathi people have been fighting to get back their spectacular ancestral lands on Cape York, from which they were removed in the 1930s, for nearly four decades. That fight was finally over after the title deeds to the land were handed back in a ceremony at Lockhart River on December 15, 2015.

Ownership of the entire white sand country, 1181 square kilometers in and around Shelburne Bay, was formally transferred to the Wuthathi people as Aboriginal freehold land. About 40,000 hectares - about one-third of the land - will become a national park, to be jointly managed by the state and traditional owners. The Wuthathi people hope jobs and economic benefits will flow to them through tourism and conservation management.

There are also 39,000 hectares of internationally-recognised "Ramsar" wetlands, which attract massive numbers of migratory wading birds every winter. The land is home to more than 30 rare and threatened species, including the southern cassowary and the palm cockatoo.

Shelburne Bay is dominated by brilliant white silica sand dune fields, some up to 100 metres high, that drop down to the Coral Sea. Scattered throughout the dunes are beautiful freshwater lakes that have been the traditional homeland of the Wuthathi people for millennia, and the white sand country has been, and continues to be, a central feature of Wuthathi stories and cultural identity.


Our Elders have always been dedicated to protecting our Whitesand/Dunes, a commitment we continue to uphold today. While we have legislative protection in place to prevent mining over our country, it's important to note that this can be overturned by the government at any time in the future.

In our efforts to safeguard our land for future generations, pursuing World Heritage Tentative Listing would offer additional protection. It's worth mentioning that Tentative Listing would simply mark a point on the map, rather than defining a specific area. There's a lengthy consultation process ahead if we decide to pursue full World Heritage listing. For more detailed information, please refer to the fact sheet HERE. Our intention is to seek World Heritage Tentative Listing specifically for the dunes, not for our entire country.

Our land has significant natural and cultural value. There are important and significant cultural heritage and sacred sites over Wuthathi country. Wuthathi country is of the highest conservation value and has unique biodiversity. The landscape is has a high degree of natural integrity and is in prime condition because of its remoteness and limited clearing and grazing.

There a range of landscapes on Wuthathi country including:

  • Heathlands
  • Wetlands
  • Rainforests and
  • Savannahs

Wuthathi country is known for its Sandstone Geology and one of Australia’s highly developed and spectacular sand dunes. These tropical dune systems are internationally significant and are the last remaining landscape of its type in Australia in an undisturbed condition.

Distinct plant and areas of nationally rare vegetation communities also have been identified in the region.

Sea Country

Our Sea country has the most significant green zone within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The region sustains a diverse natural environment with substantial fisheries. There are many species of seagrass that provide a habitat for prawns and sh and food for dugongs and turtles.

Wuthathi sea country has some of the most significant Green turtle and Dugong habitats in Australia. Raine Island is also the largest Green Turtle breeding site in the country. Our country is also known for its extensive salt pans, coastal fringing reefs and large mangrove communities.

Sea country management is our priority. Our long-term goals are to use the cultural protocols of hunting in combination with Marine Park Protocols to ensure dugong and turtle populations are managed.