Tim Winton World acclaimed West Australian author. Comments published in West Australian newspaper Monday 15th Jan 2001
Professor David Bellamy
Best wishes

Professor David Bellamy

Australian Marine Conservation Society Patron
Mark O'Dwyer
Here is a rhyme which we'd all like to see not written twenty years from now.
Cr I.L.Roly James I will walk again one day in the future hopefully along the unspoilt beaches of Coral Bay.
Mark Westera PhD candidate.
Field work and study on fish populations in the Ningaloo region
Dr. Geoff Taylor Author and MD. The man who �discovered� and first swam with the whale sharks at Ningaloo 25 years ago. See his site
Dr. Geoff Taylor adds some recent good news
An overseas visitor comments
Katrien from Belgium came, saw and was conquered


Save Ningaloo - Tim Winton

Whale SharkI'll never forget my first day on the Ningaloo Reef. Turtles, rays, blacktip and bronze whaler sharks, tuna, amazing coral - and whale sharks. Swimming with a whale shark was one of the most exciting events in my life. As in all the best moments in life, I was unprepared for it. Someone on the boat called out. I grabbed what I could by way of gear and went over the side in my undies. And there, out of the hazy deeps, loomed a great shadow. The water was blurry with plankton and jellyfish and this thing looked like a Zeppelin floating out of the clouds. I just couldn't comprehend the sheer size of it. I took a breath, dived in the direction it was headed and swam down beside it and then underneath it where a dozen fish rode the slipstream beneath its gaping jaw. The shark blocked out the sun. I could feel the passage of it through the water as I swam on my back trying to keep pace with it until, eventually, I fell back in the turbulence of its wake.
I surfaced with a whoop of exhilaration. I felt privileged to have had those few moments.
I knew I'd come to a special place, somewhere precious.

Like most people who visit the Ningaloo Reef I was attracted by its diversity and richness.
Those who do it regularly, to fish or surf or dive love it because it's somewhere that 's full of life. The landscape around it is raw and confronting in its beauty. The reef and the coast around it are special because of their isolation. It's that remoteness that drew me to it and it's that very isolation that has preserved the reef's rich ecology and the coast's rugged integrity. It's a long way from suburbia; you need to take some time and trouble to get there, but when you do you're glad you did. You can swim in a coral garden within a few metres of shore and for almost the entire length of the reef you can surface, look landward and not see a building. You'll see dunes, red ranges, coastal heath, empty beaches. There are plenty of coral reefs in the world. But there are fewer and fewer which remain unspoiled by exploitation, and pollution. And very few as rich and extensive as the Ningaloo.

Western Australia has one of the world's treasures right here on its verandah. On Australia's east coast you can drive for days and feel like you're passing through some endless megapolis. 'Nodal' developments, condos, freeways, resorts all run together until there's barely any respite. Because of our isolation we haven't yet gone down that path. But there are plans afoot. Even at Ningaloo. Especially at Ningaloo. Lovers of the reef are only now finding out about the developers' proposal for a tourist resort at Maud's Landing near Coral Bay. This is something that ordinary beachgoing Australians should know about. And it's something that fills me with dread.

Have a look at their proposal. These guys aren't stupid. They know people will go ballistic over the prospect of a major development at Coral Bay and that people will quite rightly see this as the first of many. So they try to cover all bases. When it comes to the environment they talk soft and sensitive. The pitch is so good you'd think they were building a resort for the sake of the reef itself, not for the millions they might incidentally make on the way. Despite their slick talk these guys are developers. You and I might see Ningaloo as an experience. They see it as an exploitable opportunity. If we see landscape, they see prime location. If we see the reef as an ecosystem they'll see it as one of their resort's drawcards. At present, anyone who goes to the Ningaloo for a holiday enjoys a low-key, casual, unpretentious few weeks in the water and the sun. The tent, the caravan, maybe, and the tinnie. You're going somewhere quite particular. It's the old Australia. Many locals and holidaymakers appreciate the encounter with nature. A little bit of that wilderness experience. But what these guys see is palm trees. They see money. They see Cairns coming west. Yee-ha!

This is resort culture on the horizon. Resorts are like malls. They aren't places, but they need places to glom onto. They're essentially the same bland experience endlessly cloning itself. The world is crammed with them. What it's not crammed with is spectacular unspoiled reef systems, places we can go to and see nature as it can be. The real unimproved version. The Ningaloo deserves better treatment. It needs World Heritage Protection. It desperately needs our help to save it from this kind of development.

This proposal will take a hell of a lot of stopping. The proponents are apparently confident of success. They're selling their development as some kind of inevitable force of nature that no reasonable person could resist. I think I'm a reasonable sort of person. My friends - marine biologists, fishermen, divers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, nurses - are pretty reasonable too. But we can't let this thing go ahead without speaking up for the reef. Unlike the developers we don't have millions. We probably don't have the ear of government. And there's nothing in it for us at the end of the day except for the knowledge that we might save a special place for our children and their children.

It is not an unreasonable fear is that this resort would unlock the area to further developments.

Please help the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Conservation Council in the battle to save the Ningaloo Reef. The time to act is now. Before the bulldozers. Before the dredges. Before the marina goes in and the helipads appear and the other hotels go up because the precedents are there already. Before you find yourself saying wistfully:
'Yeah, I remember Ningaloo. Geez, it used to be great. Shame about what they did.'

Tim Winton

Tim Winton is the author of fifteen books for adults and children. He is the WA vice-president of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. He is the winner of the Wilderness Society Environment Award for Literature and was declared a Living Treasure by the National Trust.

Mark O'Dwyer

Dr. G. Gallop
Premier of Western Australia

Dear Premier.

The current proposals for a resort and marina at Coral Bay are worrying. I think it's a good idea to provide facilities for people to enjoy Ningaloo reef, but something smaller, and done very carefully as at Monkey Mia. A big complex could lead to all kinds of problems. I hope you will consider doing what you can in this matter .

Here is a rhyme which we'd all like to see not written twenty years from now.


At Coral Bay, a ghost town on the fringes of the West,
Old boat ramps scar the beaches where the turtles used to nest.

The big resort at last report leaked losses without pause,
And liquidators circled it with calculating jaws.
It's on the nose, turned up its toes, a doomed financial hulk,
The fragile sand dunes all around despoiled by its bulk.

When first the place was just a trace of ink upon a plan,
The founders were at loggerheads with all sense known to man
Their enterprise, to all's surprise, was too big to sustain
The sanctuary of wildlife -the reason tourists came.

Though saner plans passed hand to hand, the loudest voice spoke last:
"Just bung in the marina, make a killing, get out fast."
They built -and tourists came by plane, by launch and coach and car,
They crowded the glass-bottomed boats and roared across the bar.

Yet their very numbers and the craft that sliced the bay,
Were driving offmarine life and began the reefs decay.
Well, no one thrills to view a reef when half the coral's dead,
Or go out whale watching when those great beasts have fled.

The flow of tourists tapered off, and now come very few,
Who'd visit the sad heritage we've left at Ningaloo?
For hotels rise and fall and rise, but reefs once gone are gone,
And when seagrass is polluted it's Goodnight to shy Dugong.

At Coral Bay, where 'copters flew and jet boats cut the sea,
Old boat ramps'scar the beaches where the turtles used to be.

Mark O'Dwyer 2002


David Bellamy
Professor David Bellamy
with former AMCS President
Dave Graham

Dave Graham and David BellamyI beg all those about to make a decision concerning the proposed development, close to one of the world�s most special places, to say a resolute NO. Real ecologically sound development of the coastline can provide lots of sustainable jobs without further disturbing the local ecology. Indeed they can even put degraded wilderness back into working order. Good ecological practice does not just consist of alternative energy and tertiary treatment of sewage - it must include the new ethics of sustainable redevelopment. This does not include yet another marina with executive homes, high powered craft and freezers so that the wrong end of the sport fishing fraternity can cash in on the bounty of the reef. I could go on and on but anyone who has studied the plans will find a multitude of holes in the gloss.

My suggestion is that developers, local people, representatives of all those who come up from Perth (and other parts of WA) to enjoy wilderness, whale sharks, sustainable holidays and sustainable fishing around Ningaloo get together with CALM and the conservation movement, and plan how to develop this unique area sustainably.

If this doesn't happen, then my advice would be to lay down baseline studies in all aspects of the proposed development. As down stream and upstream problems occur those who condoned this development can be held responsible. There is much evidence from around the world that over exploitation even of a single species can trigger reef damage. We don�t want Ningaloo to follow the 42% of other world reefs down this slippery slope of destruction.

Mark Westera

I have found that there are statistically significant differences in the numbers of fish that are targeted by fishers between sanctuary and fished areas.

This is evidence of the impact of recreational fishing in the Ningaloo region but also of the vulnerability of these fish. The introduction of the Coral Coast Marina Development will greatly increase the number of boats and fishers in the region in what will be an unmanaged impact.

Further depletion of fish stocks in the region may then affect reef structure and compromise the tourism potential of the region. In studies elsewhere it has been shown that removal of predatory fish such as spangled emperor, the most targeted fish in the region, may affect the numbers of urchins. This in turn can affect algal and coral cover in the region. These fish have also been found with Drupella shells in their gut. Drupella is a snail that eats coral and has devastated live coral cover in some regions of the Ningaloo Marine Park. As you can see if we further deplete fish in this region we are likely to see a rise in the numbers of Drupella which will then kill off the coral that is of course the main attraction for tourists. This situation is comparable to that of the crown of thorns starfish that has destroyed large areas of the Great Barrier Reef.

The next part of my research is to evaluate whether there is such an effect at Ningaloo and there is plenty of evidence to suggest this may be occuring.

The uniqueness of this region is that it is so close to shore and therefore so accessible. This makes it very vulnerable to overfishing.

The Coral Coast Marina Development will certainly exacerbate the effects of overfishing on the Ningaloo Reef. Further to this it will destroy the appeal of the Ningaloo region inherent in its ruggedness, remoteness and beauty.

There are many examples of the effect of over development negatively impacting coastal regions. Lets not make the same mistakes here. What we need is long term sustainable tourism that protects the features it also exploits. Not shopping mall style resorts that are totally out of place on the shores of Ningaloo Marine park.

Mark Westera
Edith Cowan University

PhD candidate who has conducted a great deal of field work and study on fish populations in the Ningaloo region.

Cr I.L.Roly James

I'm Cr I.L.Roly James 44 yr old marred family man, and a recovering Quadriplegic after falling asleep at the wheel & crashing into a tree coming home from work. I normally live at home in a modest old style house in Trayning
237 Km East/North East of Perth, in the central wheatbelt. I live with wife of almost 14 years Kath & our two kids Cassie & Phil. I am the states only Quadriplegic Shire Councillor & do volunteer work trying to reduce our nations road toll, Kath is employed as a pub cook & our family loves going camping, fishing & love our sport. Both kids are good sportspersons & high achievers at School years 8 & 7 respectively. I was born into a pioneering farming family & on my paternal side I am 5th generation West Aussie. I have been employed as a farm hand, a fisherman, gold miner, road train operator, Dam sinker & operator of most earth moving equipment doing soil conservation work. I will walk again one day in the future hopefully along the unspoilt beaches of Coral Bay.


I had the lucky experience in 1978 of being employed as a Jackeroo on Gnarloo station (very southern end of Ningaloo reef system) I had never been further north than Kalbarri before but had spent a lot of time fishing & diving off the Mid west coast around Leaman, Jurien & Greenhead where we farmed at Eneabba. I had no idea whatsoever of how unique pristine, rugged, isolated it was at Gnarloo nor could I even begin to realise the diversity & range of the aquatic life.

The station belonged to a farming family. I did a crop-seeding season on their Piawanning farm and they offered me the opportunity to work on the station for a few months till harvest time. They had tried to tell me how good the life was & how magnificent the ocean reefs & sea life was with hindsight even there most glowing recommendations were a far cry short of the surprising outback treasure that awaited me�.

Even though it's been 25 years, I still remember the long hot drive over the worst road I had ever travelled on. The absolute joy & amazement when I pulled up at the Gnarloo homestead, went into the western enclosed veranda that overlooked the magnificent ocean & minor reefs "Totally amazing" I remember wishing then & still wishing now that I had been born 100 years earlier & had been amongst the first non indigenous persons to witness this splendour, a true world class paradise.

I spent 6 months working on Gnarloo. We worked hard all week, then every weekend was spent fishing, diving, and sightseeing the large tract of Coastline that's on Gnarloo's lease, I still to this day wonder "Why in the hell did I ever leave such a paradise! "

The answer is of course simple; I was a young single man yearning for adventure, female company & a desire to
continue travelling looking for more hidden, unknown paradises. As we drove away from Gnarloo for the final time I was in "Kingy's" Diamond Reo semi trailer with a load of goats on board his triple deck stock crate, "Kingy" was cursing the road & I remember thinking then "Thank Christ this road is so rough otherwise every Tom, Dick and Harry would be sharing this paradise".

As it was, Gnarloo had a fledgling tourist trade who were constantly amazed by the sights they saw and the magnificent sight including our resident sea eagle that greeted them every morning as they wandered out of the Shearer's quarters after having a BBQ tea, hot water shower with the water coming from a donkey boiler and sleeping the night on a shearer's wire bed. Roughing it is and was part of the experience & lets face it even today if they want 5 star luxury on the beach they can go to Dunsborough, Surfers Paradise, Dubai or Bali etc.

In 1983 I took a girlfriend for a trip in my old Holden station wagon we visited Onslow, Exmouth, Coral Bay, Pt Maud (Maud's Landing) Gnarloo, Carnarvon, Shark Bay. The roads were rough; my old car was hot & collected so much dust as we travelled to these semi remote areas. She was a fragile young lady & never stopped grizzling about the rattles, the dust, the distance etc. She was however, totally blown away by the various Aquatic beauty of all the areas but none more than Coral Bay & Point Maud (Maud's landing). We camped in a small tent everywhere we went and had 3 weeks of sun basking, swimming, fishing and just absorbing the natural beauty of the clear unpolluted water the reef coral & the undisturbed beach fronts. As we spent time around our roadside campfire just north of Binnu just prior to re entering civilisation, she made love to me & then thanked me for showing her so much raw unspoilt beauty of the region & the aquatic life. She then admitted, "I hope these roads never get any better, every Tom, Dick & Harry will want to visit!!!"

Years have gone by I have travelled Australia, found miss right and started a family. I'm now a recovering Quadriplegic with a young family who has never seen this area, when I take them I want them to be the lucky ones who put up with a bit of discomfort to see the unsurpassed natural beauty & a ocean that's alive, not just a backdrop to a Upper class adventure playground for the rich & famous.

In 1991 I was Project Manager for a small earthmoving company that was involved as sub-contractor on a Revetment wall, seabed reclamation project.
Basically a very similar type operation as what will be required to build the marina at Coral bay etc

We were required to blast thousands of cubic metres of rock 1 Km inland then using these rocks build an L shaped wall parallel to the east side of the Cape Lambert iron ore load out facility that protrudes at least 1 km into reasonably deep water so the Iron ore carrier ships could safely berth in deeper water.

Once we started the plan was to cart these rocks using 50 tonne dump trucks to form a wall 15 metre wide at the base 8 metres wide at the top. We started at the existing ground level then 250 metres east of the load out conveyer system we made our wall out into the ocean for 350 metres to a rock that became exposed at low tide then we went at 90 degrees & met back up with the existing rock wall supporting the load out facility. Then we placed sand proof matting on the inside & reclaimed the total area with quarry sand so that the company could extend its Iron Ore stockpile & reclaimer conveyer belt.

All around the load out facility was a no go, a no fishing exclusion zone for all boats so the ocean was teeming with sea life, the rock where the wall turned 90 degrees was a haven for large beautiful big oysters & as we developed the wall we were constantly disturbing very large stingrays, some days the water around the oyster rock was 5 metres deep & on a low tide it was surrounded by flat grassy nearly dry seabed.

I made the fatal mistake of finishing off the last 20 loads of rock at high tide late one afternoon.. .As the tide went out early next morning all the water flowed through the rocks leaving 2 sharks, 3 stingrays & numerous other fish trapped in this man made land locked bay. When we arrived at the worksite I was disgusted with myself for my thoughtless, careless behaviour

I immediately got all my 9 workers into the watery slush and using large sheets of this sand proof matting to protect ourselves we loaded all the sharks, stingrays various fish on by one into the large excavator bucket & lifted them over the wall into the water of the incoming tide, We were too late for one shark and it just floated away belly up. In hindsight I should have been shot or our companies heavily fined, I live the rest of my life knowing I wasted that sharks life. As I lay paralysed in a hospital bed I sometimes wonder if my crash/paralysis Gods payback for sins like this.

In summary I offer you the following points to consider.
#. l. How stupid are we considering such a ecological disastrous proposal on some of our Worlds best & relatively unspoilt Outback coastline in the year 2002 "The year of the Outback" We might as well pay Elle McPherson millions to spread the word world wide. "Come to West Australia & see living proof that the developers big end of town dollars are much more important than the sustainability or real proper guardianship of "The fantastic
world class, unique but easily marketed parts of our Outback."

#. 2. How dare you as a elected Govt who boasted about governing for "All West Australians" put at risk recognised breeding grounds & the living areas of turtles, dugongs, whales, whale sharks & other precious coral & sea life in our beautiful State, or doesn't "ALL WEST AUSTRALIANS" include the thousands of young old & middle aged every day West Aussies that are yet to experience the unspoilt beauty of the area.
Has anyone thought how bad it really must be to be a threatened species? I believe I can know how these unfortunate creatures would feel. Because of my experiences after my crash & resulting Quadriplegia, where in a matter of just seconds I went from somebody who was head of the family, sole self employed bread winner, worker capable of doing nearly anything, operating all classes of large farming & earthmoving equipment & paying my way in society, to being nearly totally reliant on the care, welfare & generosity of others & unable to do most things for myself. Its a despairing damn feeling, "Is that what we want these harmless creatures to go through, plus suffer the indignity of seeing their homes & feeding, breeding grounds destroyed just so the rich & famous can have another haven?

God said, "Treat all others as you would wish to be treated yourself! "Surely this simple philosophy says it all, so simple it makes Mr Joe average people, like my family & I wonder why & how this stupid, dangerous proposal is being allowed to even progress to the discussion stage let alone any further.

This proposal to develop Marina/Resort etc is plain stupidity & must not be allowed to proceed. Keep this unique part of West Australia the unspoilt paradise that it always has been.
Sure there are some employment opportunities to be had by developing a marina & resort but I believe that a far better option would be for the Government to ask the developer to build several locally made large fast safe aluminium catamarans that could safely & carefully depart CARNARVON PORT for a full day cruise on the outer edges of the reef so the state still benefits from employment, tourism dollars etc without risking the fragile beauty of this pristine environment.

Yours Sincerely
CR I.L. Roly James. 9/01/02

Whale SharkNINGALOO REEF 2001 - Geoff Taylor

Many readers of this text will be familiar with statements made by coral reef experts 10 years ago that 30% of reefs are already destroyed, 30% are threatened, and 30% still OK. One of the most depressing aspects of the last decade has been watching this prophecy slowly come true. The death of a coral reef is however not an all or nothing affair.

There are many in our community who are completely unaware of the destruction that has occurred at Ningaloo over the past 20 years. It is a concern to me that even scientists, when considering the state of the world's coral reefs may be including Ningaloo among the OK category. However, compared to many of the destroyed reefs to our north, Ningaloo is still a remarkable ecosystem, and hopefully decisions made today can influence its continuing survival.

The issue of the Coral Bay development is extremely important in this regard. It is no exaggeration that the corals of the bay are unique on the whole west coast of this Continent, both in their extent, and the diversity of species. Visitors from the Eastern States are not aware of anything to match it on the Great Barrier Reef. This is the jewel in the crown of our Ningaloo Reef, and all of us should be doing our utmost to preserve it.

As a diver and photographer who has been involved with the region through the last 20 years, I have witnessed many changes. In recent years I have attempted to take an "inventory" of the state of the reef at as many locations as I could visit. In particular I visited Gnaraloo (to the south of the park) in 1999, as well as Coral Bay, Norwegian Bay and the Muiron Islands. In 2000, I revisited Coral Bay, and numerous sites around the Cape as far south as Pilgramunna.

For anyone undertaking surveys now, it is very difficult for them to appreciate that the Coral rubble that now makes up most of the back reef of the northern half of Ningaloo, was a thriving coral garden 17 years ago. The northern half of the reef has shown no sign of any substantial recovery since it was devastated in the mid-1980s. The problem was coral grazers, and the most important was Drupella cornus, but it is my belief that this was the species that tipped the balance, and that over-fishing was largely responsible (predator pressure release phenomenon). This has happened on many reefs in the Indo-Pacific. The southern half of the reef system resisted the damage much more than the corals to the north. This is still evident and to the south of Ningaloo, at Gnaraloo, coral cover in 1999 was 50% in most back reef areas, but Drupella is still very evident.

What is really depressing now is that the reefs that survived that 1980s onslaught really well, such as the Bundegi Reef in Exmouth Gulf, and the reefs at the Muiron Islands have been almost totally wiped out by cyclone Vance. These were some of the most spectacular corals in the region. This to me was quite unexpected, as they have recovered quickly from cyclone damage in the past. However, I understand from locals in Exmouth that following cyclone Vance the waters of the gulf were like a muddy soup for 2-3 months, and I suspect that it was this that killed them. As in so many parts of the world, it is the activities of man on land that causes the greatest impact, and the run off from overgrazed pastoral land probably caused this. For anyone who doubts this, there are horrendous erosion gullies on some of the local pastoral leases.

Coral Bay has suffered from at least three different problems. The back reef was severely damaged by Drupella during the 1980s. The corals close to the settlement were killed by two hypoxic events in (I think) 1988 and 1990. On these occasions, persistent low swell conditions in late summer, with high water temperatures caused an algal bloom. On the second occasion it coincided with Coral spawning. There was little doubt that excess nutrients in the water, from effluent seepage from the resort, contributed greatly to this. Finally there has been massive coral loss in the central lagoon in the last three years. I suspect that this was caused by the 1998 warming event and is due to coral bleaching. Thankfully, the corals closer in-shore are "OK", and in the southern part of the Bay there is still good cover.

On the positive side, the corals in deep water outside the reef in the Ningaloo area and in the north are still in pretty good shape.

All in all the picture is fairly depressing. The back reef corals would normally make up a major percentage of the coral biomass of the reef. The deepwater corals have always been much sparser. I suspect that Ningaloo has already lost far more than 50% of its coral biomass, and with the loss of habitat that this represents, the flow on effect to loss of other species is huge.

It is vital that we get things right for the future, both at the local and the International level. Australian politicians have had a negative influence in the past over attempts to reduce global carbon emissions. One might hope that the damage done to the Great Barrier Reef by coral bleaching in 1998 might have convinced our politicians that we are not in any way immune from the effects of global warming. At the local level, we must strive to reduce potential negative impacts on our reef systems.

Geoff Taylor


Addendum May 2001:

Good news for a change: There are very good signs of coral regrowth (at last) on some of the back reef corals. We particularly spent time in the Turquoise Bay sanctuary zone, where there is almost a mono culture of plate corals approx 200mm diameter (Acropora hyacinthus I suspect) growing on the back reef. Further north there were some areas of recovery, and some that were still algae covered coral rubble. Makes one ask the question whether recovery is happening faster in the sanctuary area. It would be an interesting project for someone.

It is not a silly question at all, because the only area that we saw appreciable numbers of one of the main predators Spangled Emporer (Lethrinus nebulosus) was in the Sanctuary. They have had such a hammering from fishermen.

Another interesting positive finding was that coral trout are returning in numbers to the reefs all down the west coast. As a species targeted by spear-fishermen, it was exceptional to see them down the west coast, and especially in areas such as Lighthouse Bay, yet we saw them in several sites.

It is good to have some good environmental news occasionally.

Geoff Taylor


Aussie Post is quite blunt about it -

Aussie Post article

The January 6 issue of Aussie Post gave a two page spread to the issue of development in the WA Ningaloo Marine Park


Yes that's Kylie's hair showing!