Ningaloo is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia and a prime conservation area as well as one of our great nature-based tourism and recreation attractions. An estimated 200,000 visitors a year come to this remarkable location to enjoy the Ningaloo experience - snorkelling on coral reefs just metres off the shore, warm sunny winter days, diving with gigantic whale sharks, walking on beaches, whale watching, fantastic fishing and remote outback camping.
It's little wonder that it has been listed as the seventh Western Australian icon to mark the State's 175th anniversary celebrations.
Ningaloo has more than 200 species of corals, a myriad of marine landforms, high water quality, gardens of captivating sponges, diverse life forms in the seabeds and fringing forests of mangroves.
These support an amazing diversity of wildlife including 600 species of shellfish and other molluscs, 500 species of fish including whale sharks, manta rays and other tropical and subtropical fish, and a variety of other invertebrates. The reef is also on the migration path of humpbacks and other whales. Dugongs can often be seen in lagoons while the sandy beaches of the coast provide habitat for four species of turtle, three of which nest in the region.
The foreshore and hinterland along the North West Cape also contain numerous Aboriginal sites such as burial grounds, middens and fish traps.
These natural and cultural features and their scientific and social importance, are of international significance and the process has begun to have the reef and the adjoining Cape Range National Park nominated for listing as a World Heritage Area.
The Ningaloo Reef system is 290 km long, extending from Red Bluff in the south, to the northern reaches of the North West Cape.
The reef is part of a marine environment that ranks among the world's most diverse marine systems in terms of biodiversity. In fact, of the world's 18 ‘hotspots’ of coral reef diversity, Western Australia's coast from Ningaloo to Rottnest Island ranks seventh in terms of total diversity and second in terms of the number of species found in a relatively limited area.
A mecca for visitors...
The popularity of nature-based tourism, including whale watching, diving, snorkelling, glass bottom boat tours and sea kayaking, is increasing in Ningaloo Marine Park. Swimming with whale sharks has grown into a $12 million a year industry in little more than a decade, attracting visitors from around the world.
A recent study by Curtin University showed the value of Ningaloo Marine Park to the local economy. Ningaloo Marine Park was considered by visitors to be the most important tourist attraction in the Exmouth area - more than 80 per cent of those surveyed said Ningaloo Marine Park was a reason for visiting Exmouth. The most popular activity listed by visitors was snorkelling from the shore (73 per cent), followed by swimming (62 per cent), sightseeing (54 per cent), lying on the beach (48 per cent) and swimming with whale sharks (46 per cent). Other popular activities were diving and snorkelling from a boat, and fishing from the shore.
Another study - by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre - has estimated that $127 million a year of the total spent by tourists is directly attributed to Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park.
... especially of the marine variety
In autumn and winter, Ningaloo is ‘home’ for the world's biggest species of fish - the whale shark. The reef is the only easily accessible place in the world where these gentle giants - they can grow to more than 12 metres long and weigh more than 11 tonnes - appear in such large numbers, and regularly.
Visitors from around the world come to ‘swim with the whale sharks’. Licenced operators run regular excursions during which people can simply dive off the boat and be alongside the massive animals.
In March and April, the reef turns on one of nature's marine wonders - a mass coral spawn. For about a week after the full moon, the reef pumps out millions of bundles of eggs and sperm, which float to the surface creating a bright pink ‘tide’.
A sustainable future
Currently about 80 per cent of the Ningaloo Reef is protected in the Ningaloo Marine Park. In July 2004, the State Government released plans to extend the park southward to include all 290 km of the reef as well as to create a new marine conservation reserve around the Muiron Islands to the north.
This will create a continuous marine conservation reserve network extending over 275,000 hectares of State waters. A further 232,600 hectares of Commonwealth waters are also included in the Ningaloo Marine Park.
As part of the process of managing the park to ensure it is preserved and the impacts of increasing visitation are minimised, the State Government has set aside $5 million for a special scientific research program that will provide a greater understanding of the reef and its many ecosystems.
This research, along with a new proposed 10-year management plan, will help ensure the area is managed sustainably for the benefit of future generations.
For more information on the Ningaloo coast and Cape Range visit: