Few large-scale marine areas on our planet remain rich in nature’s treasures and largely beyond the reach of industrial, commercial and urban development. The outstanding values of the Ningaloo-Pilbara and Kimberley – a stretch of just over one million square kilometres of offshore Commonwealth waters between Kalbarri and the WA/NT border – are of national and international significance.
The recently announced network of marine reserves provide a high level of protection for almost 10% of the region’s incredible marine habitats.
Aboriginal Saltwater people of the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley have cultural responsibilities as custodians for this marine environment as part of their traditional lives. Indigenous Ranger programs here reflect these cultural responsibilities and support Traditional Owners to manage their sea-country.
To the south, Shark Bay has one of the largest dugong populations in the world, while the recently World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef is the longest fringing reef in the country.
The Ningaloo-Pilbara coast has coral reefs of outstanding diversity, and large areas of critical habitat for threatened species like sea turtles, dugong and whales. North of Port Hedland, Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach are critically important stopovers on the East Asian – Australian Flyway, the route for many hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds.
The warm tropical waters north of Broome are the calving and breeding grounds for the world’s largest population of humpback whales. Calves are suckled for several months each year before commencing the big journey back to Antarctica for summer. The Kimberley’s waters are also home for a wide range of other whales and dolphins – including the Australian snubfin dolphin, blue whales, pygmy killer whales, pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.
The Rowley Shoals, and the Scott, Seringapatam, Ashmore and Cartier offshore reefs are important habitats with exceptionally high numbers and variety of wildlife. These reefs are regarded as globally important hotspots supporting a myriad of free-swimming and seafloor dwelling marine life.
There are over 2600 islands in the Kimberley’s waters and these serve as important microcosms of the mainland environment. For many endangered or threatened animals, these islands are refuges where critical populations have so far escaped modern day pressures and decimation by feral animals.
These islands are critically important homes for marine plants and animals. Browse Island and the Lacepede Islands are both major rookeries for green sea turtles; the Lacepede Islands and surrounding waters have been identified as the largest green turtle rookeries in Western Australia.
The offshore waters surrounding Browse Island support a larger number of whale and dolphin species than any other area on the Western Australian coast, including large pods of oceanic dolphins, pygmy killer whales, false killer whales, melon-headed whales, minke whales and pilot whales.
The marine environment of the Ningaloo-Pilbara and Kimberley is on a par with the Great Barrier Reef as a tropical system of global significance. The recently announced network of marine reserves, will help maintain a healthy marine environment, throughout the Ningaloo-Pilbara and Kimberley in the face of climate change.