The Bardi Jawi people of WA's remote Kimberley region have won a 15-year battle for native title rights over the sea off an area of WA's north coast.
Yesterday's Federal Court ruling is the first time that traditional owners in the Kimberley have been recognised as having significant title over the sea, islands and reefs.
In November 2005, the court recognised the existence of native title across a large area of the Bardi Jawi's mostly-land claim.
But the court found that native title did not exist across the sea, reefs and islands including Sunday Island and Jackson's Island.
The court recognised the Bardi (land) people as having retained their connection to country, but found the Jawi (island) people had lost their connection as they had become integrated into Bardi society.
In a bid to claim the sea rights, the Kimberley Land Council appealed the finding in 2006.
Yesterday, the court recognised the distinct characteristics of the Bardi and Jawi people but also their common interests as one society.
Bardi man Nolan Hunter, the KLC's deputy director, said the decision was a win for the Bardi Jawi.
"This decision means we have been awarded exclusive possession native title rights across most of our claim area," he said.
"This is a major victory for our people.
"Exclusive possession is the strongest form of native title you can get."