Program: Murujuga Rock Art

The Western Australian Government recognises the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Murujuga ‒ the past, present and future generations of Ngurra-ra Ngarli ‒ and their ongoing connection to this sacred country.
Last updated: 25 July 2023
Murujuga rock art strategy rock landscape


Murujuga (which means ‘hip bone sticking out’ in the Ngarluma-Yaburara language) comprises the Burrup Peninsula and the Dampier Archipelago 1,300 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The Government of Western Australia (State Government) recognises Murujuga as a unique ecological and archaeological area containing one of the largest collections of Aboriginal engraved rock art in the world.

Murujuga is also home to industry that contributes to the local, state and national economy and employment. Concerns the rock art could be damaged by industrial air emissions have led to several independent scientific studies and rock art monitoring initiatives since the mid 2000s.

Partnership with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (the department) is committed to the ongoing protection of Murujuga's rock art by working in partnership with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), representing the Traditional Custodians of Murujuga.

Murujuga Rock Art Strategy

The purpose of the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy is to protect the Aboriginal rock art by providing a long-term framework that builds on previous work to deliver an improved approach to monitoring, analysis and management.

The Murujuga Rock Art Strategy will be reviewed at least every five years. This will ensure it remains current, supports appropriate governance arrangements, and that the best scientific knowledge and management practices are used to protect the rock art.

DWER Murujuga rock art strategy rock landscape

The department has primary responsibility for the day-to-day implementation of the strategy in partnership with MAC. This includes working with MAC to oversee the development and implementation of a world’s best practice monitoring and analysis program that will determine whether the rock art on Murujuga is subject to accelerated change.

The scope of this strategy is to:

  1. establish an environmental quality management framework, including the derivation and implementation of environmental quality criteria
  2. develop and implement a robust program of monitoring and analysis to determine whether change is occurring to the rock art on Murujuga
  3. identify and commission scientific studies to support the implementation of the monitoring and analysis program and management
  4. establish governance arrangements to ensure that:
    • monitoring, analysis and reporting are undertaken in such a way as to provide confidence to Traditional Owners, the community, industry scientists and other stakeholders about the integrity, robustness, repeatability and reliability of the monitoring data and results
    • government is provided with accurate and appropriate recommendations regarding the protection of the rock art, consistent with legislative responsibilities
  5. develop and implement a communication strategy in consultation with stakeholders.  

The consultation summary report summarises the comments received on the draft strategy. The consultation ran from September 2017 to May 2018. There were 27 written submissions received.

Monitoring program

A best practice monitoring and analysis program commenced in 2020. It will provide reliable information on changes and trends in the condition of the rock art and whether the rock art is showing signs of accelerated change. 

The program includes:

  • installation of air quality monitoring stations across Murujuga
  • regular field measurements of selected rock art panels using a variety of methods
  • detailed laboratory investigation of rock samples, including the microorganisms living on the rock surface.

The results from these studies will guide management and protection of the rock art. Reports produced as part of the monitoring program are regularly published in the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy document collection

The monitoring program is overseen by the department and MAC, in consultation with national and international subject matter experts, a panel of independent peer reviewers and stakeholders.

MAC has developed the Murujuga Research Protocols as a set of governing principles and guidelines to ensure research is conducted in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner.

The monitoring program is being implemented by Calibre Group and experts from Curtin University until early 2026. The monitoring team is also developing a training program for MAC Rangers. Once Rangers are qualified in monitoring and analysis techniques, MAC will be well placed to implement the monitoring from 2026 onwards.

Conceptual models of the rock art system were published in 2021 to share the current understanding of the system and interactions that are likely to be occurring. These models inform the development of the monitoring studies plans and the development of an environmental quality management framework.

The monitoring studies data collection and analysis plan, published in April 2022, is crucial to the design of the Murujuga Rock Art Monitoring Program, and the scope and quality of the science to monitor, evaluate and report on changes and trends in the integrity of the rock art on Murujuga.

The first annual report on monitoring studies will be published in late 2023, following an independent peer review process.

Key milestones and status

Year Program key milestones and status
  • Review of weathering/alteration/degradation processes that have the potential to cause change in the rock art (completed)
  • Delivery of a stakeholder workshop (completed)
    Development of conceptual models and monitoring studies plan (completed)
  • Determination of optimal monitoring sites (completed)
  • Peer review of conceptual model and monitoring studies plan (completed)
  • MAC and the department’s approval of the monitoring studies plan (completed)
  • State Government commitment to funding dedicated MAC Ranger positions and to support training and capacity building for MAC (announced May 2022)
  • Completion of fieldwork and laboratory monitoring studies (completed)
  • Commencement of Ranger training needs analysis, Ranger training and capacity building (in progress)
  • Continuation of fieldwork and laboratory monitoring studies (in progress)
  • Procurement and installation of air quality monitoring stations (completed)
  • Continuation of Ranger training and capacity building (in progress)
  • Development of an annual report on the 2022 monitoring studies (peer reviewed) (under peer review prior to publication)
  • Delivery of a stakeholder workshop (complete)
  • Commencement of the design of ongoing monitoring program
  • Development of interim environmental quality criteria (EQC) based on field and laboratory studies
  • Finalisation of the monitoring program design
  • Implementation of the monitoring program
  • Commencement of reporting against EQC
  • Continuation of Ranger training and capacity building 
  • Progressive handover of monitoring and reporting program to MAC (with support from the department) commences
  • Finalisation of EQC (2025)
  • Development of environmental monitoring programme regulations under the Environmental Protection Act 1986
  • Independent reviews of the monitoring program and rock art strategy
2026 (and beyond)
  • Completion of the handover of the monitoring program to MAC, with support from the department
  • Ongoing monitoring and reporting against final EQC

Stakeholder reference group

The Murujuga Rock Art Stakeholder Reference Group is an advisory group that was established by the previous Minister for Environment, Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, in September 2018 to facilitate engagement between the MAC and key government, industry and community representatives on the development and implementation of the strategy. The terms of reference were reviewed in May 2022, following consultation with MAC.

Professor Stephen van Leeuwen is the independent chair of the stakeholder reference group, which meets on a quarterly basis. Visit the document collection to read summaries of meetings and community forums.

To contact the stakeholder reference group, email

Previous monitoring

Over the past 15 years there have been many scientific studies conducted and reports produced regarding the potential for industrial emissions to impact on Murujuga’s rock art. The previous monitoring, undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) between 2004 and 2016, focused on the colour change and spectral mineralogy of the rock art on Murujuga.

Independent reviews commissioned by the State Government have recognised that improvements can be made to ensure that monitoring programs and other studies provide robust, reliable results to inform management. This advice has been carefully considered in the development of the Murujuga Rock Art Monitoring Program.

You can view previous monitoring reports in the document collection. Chapter 2 of the monitoring studies data collection and analysis plan includes an evaluation of previous studies and data.

Frequently asked questions

This section provides responses to frequently asked questions about the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy and monitoring program.

Does the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy project team believe that emissions are currently impacting the rock art of Murujuga?

The data currently available from previous monitoring projects does not allow for a conclusive answer on whether anthropogenic emissions are impacting Murujuga’s rock art. The Murujuga Rock Art Strategy is therefore essential to fill these gaps in knowledge.

Although it is not known whether the rock art is being impacted currently, there are feasible impact pathways by which emissions from industrial activities and other local sources could cause accelerated weathering of the rock art. The strategy is examining these potential pathways and the condition of the rock art to understand whether change is occurring, and whether there is a need to set a future limit on emissions to ensure accelerated weathering does not occur.

What is the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy project team’s position on previous monitoring data?

Chapter 2 of the monitoring studies data collection and analysis plan (April 2022) includes a comprehensive review of previous monitoring undertaken on Murujuga, including the scientific limitations and data gaps.

The data from previous monitoring projects, including the monitoring undertaken by the CSIRO between 2004 and 2016, lacks sufficient sample sizes and the selection of sites was not based on statistical methodologies that would ensure it is representative of all rock art on Murujuga. There also appears to be errors in the data that could be a result of changes in techniques used over time or inconsistent calibration of equipment. This means the data cannot be relied upon to confirm whether impacts are currently occurring on the rock art, or what sources any changes can be attributed to.

The monitoring studies undertaken as part of the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy are regularly reviewed by independent scientific experts to ensure there will be sufficient data to provide robust, reliable results that can be used to regulate industry and to ensure the rock art is preserved for future generations.

Another major difference between previous studies and the Murujuga Rock Art Monitoring Program is that previous work focused on rock art close to industry and did not consider variability in rock art from more remote locations on Murujuga, including on the islands of the Dampier Archipelago. The monitoring program is also considering other factors, such as the role that microorganisms play in the formation or bio-weathering of patina, which may affect the visibility of the rock art.

What are the roles of the key organisations involved in the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy?

  • Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation: MAC represents the five language groups who are the custodians of Murujuga Country. MAC, in partnership with the department, leads the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy and monitoring program. The Murujuga Circle of Elders provides cultural authority for the project, including cultural approvals of monitoring locations and methods. The Murujuga Rangers work with the project consultant team to deliver all fieldwork and will take greater responsibility for the fieldwork through to 2026, at which point MAC will undertake all monitoring and other fieldwork.
  • Department of Water and Environmental Regulation: The department, in partnership with MAC, leads the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy and monitoring program. The department supports MAC in the implementation and MAC’s aspirations to lead the technical elements of the strategy. The department is also responsible for regulation of industry under the Environmental Protection Act. Amendments to the Act take effect in 2023, enabling the making of regulations for an environmental monitoring program which will be introduced to recover the costs of the monitoring program.
  • Stakeholder reference group (SRG): The SRG's role is to provide advice related to engagement, communications and promotion of the strategy. This includes engagement between MAC, the department and key industry representatives on the development and implementation of the strategy.
  • Stakeholder reference group Chair: An independent professional appointed by, and reporting to, the Minister for Environment. Professor Stephen van Leeuwen is the current Chair.
  • Consultants: Calibre Group and Curtin University deliver the project management and scientific studies, respectively. The consultant teams are currently leading the training of the Murujuga Rangers and will hand over the project management and fieldwork roles to MAC once the monitoring program is established.
    Independent peer reviewers: All scientific plans and reports are reviewed by independent experts who are leaders in their fields, including heritage management, organic and inorganic geochemistry, data analysis and air emissions.
  • Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA): DBCA works with MAC to lead the development of the World Heritage nomination of the Murujuga Cultural Landscape, as well as joint management of the Murujuga National Park.

How will the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy provide protection for the rock art?

The initial studies will allow the scientific team to determine the levels of various air emissions that may cause accelerated weathering of the rock art. These levels will not necessarily be identified during the field studies on Murujuga Country, in which case they will be informed by laboratory tests.

The research will inform an environmental quality management framework. Specifically, the levels of air emissions at which accelerated weathering is deemed to occur will be used to inform environmental quality criteria. The ongoing monitoring program, administered by MAC and the department, will gather data and ensure that emissions do not exceed the criteria. Industry will also be regulated to ensure their emissions will not cause the criteria to be exceeded.

There are two types of environmental quality criteria under the framework: environmental quality standards and environmental quality guidelines. Guidelines provide early warning of potential environmental effects, while standards indicate where the level of risk is no longer acceptable, triggering a management response to prevent environmental harm. In the case of the rock art, an exceedance of the standard means there is a high risk of permanent loss or damage to the rock art.

While environmental quality criteria have been used successfully in other contexts, it is important to remember that there are no environmental quality standards or guidelines values currently available anywhere in the world that can be applied to engraved rock art. 

How is the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy funded?

There are two sources of funding for the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy.

The major industrial emitters on Murujuga Country provide funding to State Government to allow the implementation of the monitoring program. Funding responsibility is sourced from industry partners based upon levels of emissions and will be revised throughout the monitoring program. Currently funding is provided by Woodside Energy, Rio Tinto and Yara Pilbara under an agreement with the department.

The State Government separately funds implementation of other elements of the strategy, including a partnership and funding agreement with MAC, independent peer reviews and the Murujuga Rock Art Stakeholder Reference Group.

What is the connection with World Heritage listing?

The World Heritage nomination for Murujuga includes a comprehensive and effective management framework that outlines how the potential ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of the area will be protected, conserved and monitored. As part of this framework, the State Government and MAC will demonstrate how they are working closely together to protect the rock art through the Murujuga Rock Art Strategy and the Murujuga Rock Art Monitoring Program.

The DBCA website has more information on the World Heritage nomination.