World Heritage Status!
On 24 June 2011, the Ningaloo Coast in Northwest Australia was added to the World Heritage List – increasing Australia’s World Heritage listings to 19. The land and waters of the Ningaloo Coast are seen by many to be a globally unique place with highly diverse coral reefs within the Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP), a terrestrial peninsula (Cape Range) that is built from ancient reef systems, and underground caves that house rare and unique animals. As such, the Ningaloo Coast provides a window into the evolution of reefs, changing sea levels and the movement of continents over time.
As Beautiful As The Great Barrier Reefs
While often viewed as the poor cousin of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Ningaloo Reef within the NMP is one of the longest fringing barrier reefs in the world and is the only extensive fringing barrier reef that occurs on the western side of a continent. Ningaloo Reef also rivals the GBR in terms of beauty and diversity, with over 200 species of corals, over 460 species of reef fish (over 460 species), as well as thousands of marine invertebrate species. Ningaloo is further blessed with healthy populations of marine turtles, rays, manta rays, sharks, dugongs, dolphins, and whales. That said, Ningaloo Reef is perhaps most famous for the large aggregations of whale sharks that frequent the area during May to September every year.
The NMP was gazetted in 1987 as a multiple use marine park and recreational activities such as boating, fishing, diving, surfing, camping etc. are therefore permitted along the Ningaloo Coast – activities which are important for the ~ 2,500 residents that live within the Ningaloo region. Given that Ningaloo Reef is already protected by the NMP, what exactly does World Heritage mean and how or why is it important to the Ningaloo Coast and it’s residents?
What doe a Heritage Site Mean?
A World Heritage site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as being of special cultural or physical significance, and it is the highest global recognition of the importance of a site. That said, existing national, state and local laws, regulations and plans in place for the Ningaloo Coast will remain in place and continue to guide management and decision-making in the area. World Heritage listing therefore does not change ownership of land, the way land and waters are managed, or existing land uses and activities – people can continue to enjoy fishing, camping, snorkelling, diving etc. in the World Heritage area. However, World Heritage listing does create a requirement for development proposals that are likely to significantly affect the World Heritage values to be referred to the Australian Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
As such, while people’s day to day lives and the regulations of the NMP will not change with the new World Heritage listing, the international exposure that comes with the listing has the potential to raise the tourism profile of the Ningaloo region. Perhaps more importantly, Ningaloo Reef has been given a helping hand in terms of future development in that major development activities (e.g. oil and gas extraction, mining – which are very active in the resource-rich west coast of Australia) will now have to get Australian Federal Government approval under the World Heritage Convention.
It is indeed an exciting time for the Ningaloo Coast and for the many people who have campaigned so actively over the past 15 years to get the Ningaloo Coast on the World Heritage List and, as such, ensure Ningaloo Reef’s future as one of the great coral reef systems of the world.
About the Author
Tyrone Ridgway is a marine biologist who has spent the past ten years researching and teaching about coral reefs in East Africa and East Australia. After time spent working for WWF Australia and the Climate Change Group of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Tyrone recently moved to the west coast of Australia where he now works at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Tyrone is currently heading up an exciting new project called the Ningaloo Atlas (http://ningaloo-atlas.org.au), which is a web-based knowledge management system aimed to collate, share, and communicate the latest research for the newly listed World Heritage Ningaloo Reef.