In 2016, we celebrate two UNESCO World Heritage status milestones. Western Australia is home to three world heritage sites, with two located on Australia's Coral Coast. On 25 June, the Ningaloo Coast will be recognising 5 years of certification with Shark Bay celebrating 25 years on 11 December 2016.
The World Heritage Listed (WHL) status reflects that Ningaloo and Shark Bay are internationally significant for their role in the protection of an incomparable number of marine and terrestrial specie s with an extraordinary story of biogeography, exceptional natural features and water bodies, biological richness and environmental conservation.
To be included on the WHL, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. The Ningaloo Coast meets two and Shark Bay meets four criteria. Both the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay contain:
(vii) superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance include the Hamelin Pool Stromatolites in Shark Bay, which are one of only three Stromatolite examples in the world. The site explores the evolution of the earth’s biosphere as the world’s first lifeforms. Few predators and competitors can survive the hyper-saline waters that the Stromatalitles have formed in, allowing the microbes to flourish and stand the test of time.
Whale Sharks are listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ and are a protected species in Western Australia, further adding to Ningaloo’s WHL. Ningaloo notes the world’s highest reliability rate of whale shark numbers and accessibility of interaction.
(x) in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species. Due to the estimated 300 to 500 Whale Sharks aggregation in the nutrient rich waters of the Marine Park, following the mass coral spawning, Ningaloo meets this criteria. Additionally the unusual diversity and number of turtle hatchings, 700 fish species, 300 coral and 155 sponge species as well as 600 crustaceans all add to its WHL status. The rare subterranean aquatic species in the flooded caves are taxonomically diverse and are the highest cave fauna diversity in Australia and one of the highest in the world. This includes the unique gudgeon fish (Milyeringa veritas) that is a living remnants from the Tethys Sea from the Mesozoic era (248 million - 65 million years ago).
In Shark Bay, the area is refuge for numerous rare and threatened plants and animals with five critically endangered mammals – four of which occur in the wild nowhere else on Earth. Shark Bay’s sheltered coves are a haven for vulnerable mammals such as the Dugong and Humpback whale and reptiles such as the green turtle and endangered loggerhead turtle.
The World Heritage Shark Bay area is also an outstanding example of:
(viii) representing major stages of earth's history for the Hamelin Pool Stromatalitles and for the Wooramel Seagrass Bank which covers 103 000 hectares and is the largest structure of its type in the world, further adding to Shark Bay’s WHL status. With 12 species of sea grass creating the bank, Shark Bay is the home of the world’s second largest Dugong population who feed on the seagrass.
(ix) on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems. In addition to the Stromatalitles, one of the exceptional features of Shark Bay is the steep gradient in salinities, creating three biotic zones that have a marked effect on the distribution and abundance of marine organisms. Water in L’haridon Bight (in the Francois Person National Park) and Hamelin Pool are hypersaline, or twice as salty as the open ocean. Shark Bay has one of the few hypersaline marine environments in the world.
Both World Heritage sites can be experiences as one holiday on Australia’s Coral Coast, time dependent. Learn more by looking through our fly/drive itineraries.