Manta Ray near proposed resort  
Copyright - Richard Todd / Aquarius Productions

This extraordinary sequence of a 3 metre manta ray leaving the water was filmed just 100m from the site of a marina/resort proposed for the Ningaloo Reef but stopped from being built in 2003.

What is it?

The Ningaloo is a 280 km long 'fringing' coral reef skirting the Cape Range karst limestone peninsular, mid way up the West Australian coastline, 1200km north of Perth. Ningaloo Reef is the longest western fringing coral reef and one of the last healthy major coral reef systems in the world.

The Ningaloo region is so unique in its profound biodiversity that it easily qualifies for World Heritage Listing. This has not yet happened, however the Western Australian governement is currently preparing a nomination).

Where is it?

Map of Australia Ningaloo Marine Park map

Southern Bateman Bay map

The Ningaloo Reef is a 280 km long 'fringing' coral reef skirting the Cape Range peninsular, mid way up the West Australian coastline, about 1200km north of Perth.

What's special about it? Coral spawning




Cetaceans Turtles Dugong Manta
Fish Coral Seagrasses Flora Molluscs Sharks Fauna Marsupials Birds The Secret World

Whale Sharks Whaleshark

The whale shark is the largest living shark. It is one of the three filter-feeding species of shark, with a broad, flattened head and minute teeth. It also has a distinctive patterning of light spots and stripes over a dark background, fading to a light colour on the underside. This natural camouflage allows it to �blend� into its surroundings when viewed from any angle. The ecotourism industry revolving around the whale sharks at Ningaloo Marine Park was fully established by 1993. It has burgeoned to become a huge economic boon to the economy of the region. Research was initiated to determine the impacts of ecotourism activities in the whale shark resource at NMP. (see more ...)

CetaceansHumpback breaching

Within Ningaloo Marine Park six species of toothed whales, eight species of baleen whales and two species of dolphins have been sighted. Humpback whales migrate twice annually through the reef waters, other frequenters of the Ningaloo area include the minke, southern right and blue whales. These mammals, threatened by overexploitation and destruction of their Indo-Pacific habitat find a safe and healthy marine habitat at Ningaloo. (see more...)

Turtles Turtlr hatchling

Of the seven marine turtle species in the world, six are found in Australian waters and four of these are found in the Ningaloo marine tract area. These are the Flatback, Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles, all classified as vulnerable or endangered under the IUCN and the EPBCA Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). Some of these threatened turtle species are known to be residents of this coastline all year round, they regularly nest on beaches in Bateman Bay. These vulnerable creatures will be strongly effected by a marina development right on their nesting ground. (see more...)

Dugong Dugong

Northern Australia has the last significant Dugong population in the world. The delicate seagrass ecosystems along the coastline are vital refuge areas for Dugongs to feed and mate. This includes the area of Batemans Bay near Maud's landing. According to 1989/1994 surveys, the Ningaloo Marine Park had a population of 1000 dugongs, distributed across the whole Ningaloo reef tract. (Preen, Marsh, Lawler, Prince, Shepherd 1997). (see more...)

Manta Rays
Manta ray

Manta Rays occur widely in front of proposal. Aggregations of up to 100 animals are reported. Anecdotal evidence (there is little scientific research on mantas at Ningaloo yet) point to Maud's landing as having the most consistent manta interactions on the Ninagloo coast in shallow water inside the reef . This is unique to Point Maud as mantas are usually found on the ocean side of the reef. A witnessed mating sequence suggests that it could be a mating ground. They are totally protected under the Fisheries Resource Management Act. (see more...)


fishThe fish species in the Ningaloo reef area are incredibly varied and abundant, with about 500 species, this is because of the undisturbed, isolated state of Ningaloo.
As the area is also a unique biogeographical overlap zone, the fish species are diverse, including warm-temperate, sub-tropical and tropical species. Indeed, some of the fish species found at Ningaloo are not found anywhere else in the world.

There are four fish species that have been recognised and are totally protected under the Fisheries Resource Management Act.


Coral close upThe Coral Coast Resort ironically, is most likely to increase the gradual destruction of the coral communities in the Ningaloo area. This is because the reef is a fringing reef. We've seen the gradual death to coral life on the Great Barrier reef, well, Ningaloo reef is even closer and more accessible and thus far more vulnerable to human impacts. Despite the best intentions, corals will be affected by boating activities and mooring, and trampled by people reef walking.
The corals from Ningaloo reef actually act as a vital source of coral larvae dispersing through the Abrolhos Islands and even to Rottnest Island. If the resort went ahead the negative long-term impacts would certainly be far-reaching.


SeagrassesThere are three main seagrass species found around the coast at Ningaloo, these are from the Posidonia, Amphibolis and Halophila genuses. These provide important nursery grounds and 'hide-outs' for fish and other marine creatures, and are also a vital food source for Dugongs. Seagrass is vulnerable to changes in the water quality, such as increased turbidity and nutrient enrichment, and to damage from boat anchorage thus the seagrass beds are at risk of depletion. Particularly, because the beds are located in patches around Bateman bay, rather than large beds, their rate of recovery would be decreased. (see more...)

Flora Wild flowers

Flora and Vegetation The flora of the Cape Range Peninsula is incredibly diverse with over 630 plant species recorded. It is much more diverse than similar arid and semi-arid areas in Western Australia and is known to have twice as many species as other similar areas within the same biogeographic region. Many species in the Cape Province are at the end of their geographic range and are hence considered extremely important from an ecological perspective. The peninsula is also a region of biogeographic overlap and therefore has a diversity of species from temperate, arid and tropical botanical provinces. (see more ...)

Molluscs Nudibranch

Over 600 species of mollusc have been reported in the area.



White Tipped Reef Shark Horned lizard Kangaroo Sea Eagle

The Secret World of Cape Range

Hidden from view beneath the arid exterior of Cape Range peninsula lives an extraordinary collection of cave-dwelling and aquatic animals found nowhere else in the world. These subterranean creatures are a remarkable living time capsule echoing past changes in sea level and climate, and offering a window to the time of Gondwana.

The habitat for these unique animals is the 'karst' of Cape Range - a massive system of sinkholes and caves etched over millions of years out of the limestone formations that make up much of the peninsula. The caves provide a cool humid atmosphere for an amazing diversity of terrestrial animals, called 'troglobites', adapted over eons to an underground existence. Below the caves lies a vast freshwater aquifer, salty at its edges under the coastal plain from tidal movement of seawater up to 3.5 km inland from the adjacent Ningaloo Reef. This aquifer and salty interface is the home for yet another unique group of underground aquatic animals, collectively known as 'stygofauna'.

The troglobites and stygofauna are of particular significance because of their remarkably different
origins and because of what this reveals about the history of the area. Amazingly, the closest living relatives of the aquatic stygofauna are in the Caribbean region and the Canary Islands off Africa. This extraordinary distribution of relatives suggests a common origin over 180 million years ago, when the ancient supercontinent of Pangea, on the shores of the Tethys Sea, broke up. As the landmass forbears of today's continents, amongst them Gondwana, began drifting apart, they carried these common ancestors with them, including the ancestors of the stygofauna of Cape Range.

In contrast to the stygofauna, the closest living relatives of the cave troglobites are animals found in the litter on the floor of tropical and southern temperate forests of Australia. Cape Range is now an arid area, but the troglobites show that wet and humid conditions and rainforest must have existed there within the past 20 million years, when the Cape Range formation was deposited and the caves began to form. Some of the forest floor animals must have been driven underground as the area became progressively more arid. Having persisted in these caves long after climatic changes eliminated their surface ancestors, they are a living reflection of past climates. They became permanent cave dwellers and began evolving adaptations to a strictly subterranean life, such as loss of eyes, wings and pigment, or elongation of feelers.

The karst system of Cape Range is already renowned for having one of the most diverse and species rich subterranean faunas in the world, even though most of the secret lives hidden there still remain to be discovered. Amongst the animals found so far are amphipods, shrimps, snails and millipedes, schizoids and spiders, archaeognaths, thysanurans and fish. Of these 54 species, 10 genera and at least one class occur nowhere else. The cave systems also support many other spiders, millipedes and molluscs which are evolving adaptations towards underground life. These species and their true subterranean cousins contribute to the complexity of cave communities, which are thought to be the richest and most diverse of any karst system in the world.

At present, 11 species of the subterranean fauna are considered rare or likely to become extinct, and are listed under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act. It is likely that many more from the area will be similarly recognised and protected in the future.

The astounding level of endemic species and community complexity comes from evolution progressing in a unique habitat isolated from comparable ones elsewhere in the world. But similar processes are happening within Cape Range itself. At this finer scale, the Cape Range caves function like an archipelago of islands, separated from each other by distance or conditions inhospitable to the cave occupants. As a consequence, animals within individual caves are becoming adapted to and dependent on the specific conditions of their particular caves, and are evolving away from their relatives in adjacent caves.

Both the troglobites and stygofauna can only survive if their unique habitats are preserved. The rich cave fauna is ultimately dependent on the presence and maintenance of the limestone karst system of the peninsula as a whole, and of individual caves. But it also depends on the surface plants and animals, from where food sources are derived and carried into the caves with rainfall. Similarly, the stygofauna lives a precarious existence dependent on maintenance of the aquifer and the quality of its waters, and of the waters of the adjacent reef system.

The potential to destroy or to protect the karst and its inhabitants rests on our decisions.


Cetaceans Turtles Dugong Manta
Fish Coral Seagrasses Flora Molluscs Sharks Fauna Marsupials Birds The Secret World

How to protect it?

Your URGENT action is required to support regional planning.

World Heritage?

A Rich Human Record

Cape Range harbours an ancient history of Aboriginal habitation, providing a fascinating story of the life and culture of these first inhabitants, as well as a unique human record of environmental and biodiversity changes.

The first European to set foot on Cape Range was Captain L. Jacobzoon of the 'Mauritius' in 1618, but significant subsequent settlement, primarily for pastoralism, didnot occur until the late 19th century. The history of the previous 30,000 years of human habitation is unfolding from painstaking study of artefacts, middens and rock shelters, amongst which is one of the oldest reliably dated archaeological site in northern Western Australia, at Mandu Mandu Creek rock shelter.

The lives of the earliest inhabitants of Cape Range were intimately tied to the climate and coastline of the area. These people made use of caves and rockshelters, leaving deposits stratified over time recording shelter use and the resources which sustained human existence.

These deposits show the crucial role the sea and coastal resources played in the economies of the Aboriginal people of Cape Range. Rock shelters such as Mandu Mandu, which documents human habitation for at least 32,000 years, contains evidence of the collection and use of fish, shellfish and crabs throughout its occupational history. The presence of emu and macropod bones shows that a diversity of terrestrial resources was also used, probably as people traversed the coastal plain from the sea to the foothills.

The present coastline is a little over 1 km from the range, but as glaciation intensified during the last major ice age, the coastline at Cape Range retreated westwards as sea levels fell as much as 150 metres below present. During this period, which peaked approximately 20,000 years ago and brought extreme aridity to the peninsula, the coastline was 10-12 km from the foothills.

It is evident from the contents of rockshelters that the use of the then far hinterland of Cape Range was only occasional and probably seasonal. The offshore reef system at Cape Range provided a resource sufficient to support viable social groups on the coast, and use of the hinterland become increasingly opportunistic. The change in proximity of this resource and increased aridity is reflected at Mandu Mandu, where there is no evidence of use of the rockshelter between 20,000 and 5,000 years ago. It was only reoccupied when the coastline was again adjacent to the foothills of the peninsula. However rockshelters at Pilgonaman and Yardie Creeks record ongoing Aboriginal occupation of the peninsula throughout this period.

The importance of Cape Range in understanding the lives of coastal Aboriginal Australians cannot be overstated. The peninsula is unique in being the nearest point of the Australian continent to the edge of the Continental Shelf. Consequently rockshelters and other sites were always relatively close to the sea and used intermittently by coastal communities even during the glacial maximum. Records of this aspect of human settlement of Australia has elsewhere been drowned with the post-glacial return of the sea over the broad coastal areas that formed the coastal zone during the last glacial age.

The rockshelter deposits of Cape Range are also unique in providing the earliest evidence for human decorative traditions in Australia, through the apparent use and modification of conus and other shells as ornamental beads. These artefacts and other evidence suggest that development of culture in Australian Aboriginal communities has an antiquity rivaling that known from Europe.

In addition to reflecting the climatic and sea level history of the area, the record of human habitation adds to our understanding of other environmental and biodiversity changes which the area has experienced. Amongst these is evidence from midden sites that up to about 5,000 years ago, communities used a readily available supply of mangroves for wood and other resources. This suggests that mangroves were far more widespread along parts of the western coast of the peninsula than at present. Similarly, the presence of bones of the agile wallaby well outside its modern species range suggests that this species was distributed in the past over a greater range of ecological conditions than modern records indicate, or that climatic and vegetation regimes on the peninsula were such that it could inhabit the area. The area is now spoken for by the Yamatji Land and Sea Council.

A 4 page brochure produced by
the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
133kb as PDF

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