Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth Gulf named global Hope Spots

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
Bay of Rest sand flats on the Exmouth Gulf.
Camera IconBay of Rest sand flats on the Exmouth Gulf. Credit: Ben Fitzpatrick

Research on and protection of the marine environments along Exmouth’s coastline received international backing last week after the area was designated as having global significance.

The world heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef and adjacent Exmouth Gulf were together named a Hope Spot by international marine science organisation Mission Blue, which is run by legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle.

Hope Spots are natural environments which contain significant marine ecological values that are threatened and it was decided the coastline around Exmouth met the criteria on the back of a scientific review released by Dr Ben Fitzpatrick in July.

Dr Earle said there was so much to love about the area and pondered what could be done to protect it as new pressures mount.

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“It’s not usual; in fact, it’s the way of the world these days that humans are increasingly encroaching on what remains of natural wild places,” she said.

“This is a treasure worth standing up for and fighting for, to maintain the integrity of the system that transcends the short-term gains which people might have.”

Dr Fitzpatrick said a Hope Spot listing would help to achieve broader recognition of the ecological values and better protection of the area.

“There’s a lack of knowledge, particularly about the Exmouth Gulf but what we do know is there are a lot of special and unique values there,” he said.

“Most people don’t realise how unique the Gulf is; it has 850 species of fish, sharks and rays, compared to 550 on the Ningaloo Reef, extensive mangrove systems and it’s the largest humpback whale nursery on the west coast of Australia.”

Now that the area has made it on to the international stage, Dr Fitzpatrick said the next step would be to do some basic research, especially on the Gulf. “We know so little about the things that sustain the plants and animals which live there, and also the pre-existing impacts which are occurring like climate change and cyclones,” he said.

“From there, you would hope to identify the areas which are high priority for conservation and what sort of management should be done to maintain and sustain those values.”

Other Hope Spots in Australia include the Abrolhos Islands, Moreton Bay and Sydney Harbour.

Additional reporting by Ben Fitzpatrick

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