The Top End and the Gulf are an underwater treasure trove, stretching from the Northern Territory/Western Australia border in the west to the Tip of Queensland’s Cape York in the east. This area is one of the last intact tropical marine systems left on the planet.
In the west of this region between the NT/WA border and Darwin, the warm shallow waters of the Timor Sea provide a haven for threatened sea turtles which feed on submerged reefs and nest on nearby beaches. East of Darwin, underwater pinnacles off the Coburg Peninsula rise dramatically from the sea floor, providing a haven for light-loving marine life.
A recently created network of marine reserves is welcome but protects less than 3% of this tropical treasure trove in highly protected marine sanctuaries.
On the edge of the continental shelf, at the head of the Arafura canyons, cooler, deeper ocean waters rise, providing feeding grounds for whale sharks and predatory fish. Closer to shore, the islands which dot the Arnhem shelf are fringed by colourful reefs and clear waters, and provide a refuge for large fish like snapper, emperor and groper.
Further east, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, sea grass meadows off Groote Eylandt and Limmen Bight are a hot-spot for globally vulnerable dugong and rare snubfin dolphins. The soft sea floor of the central Gulf is home to an abundance of heart urchins, which cycle nutrients through the inter-connected food web.
The monsoonal rivers that flow into the southern Gulf are largely free from dams and large scale water extraction, making the region globally unique. Free-flowing wild rivers bring a flood of nutrients and fresh water each wet season, supporting high levels of phytoplankton: the sea-plants which produce the oxygen we breathe.
In the far east of the region, near the Torres Strait, sea turtles swim through a migratory highway between their feeding and breeding grounds in the Gulf and the Coral Sea.
Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Sea Ranger groups are active throughout the region. Drawing on traditional knowledge, contemporary science, and their increasing legal rights, they visit sacred sites, track sealife, report illegal fishing and remove ghost nets while maintaining and renewing cultural connections to their sea country.
The Top End and Gulf marine environment is priceless because it is home to an abundance of tropical sealife threatened in other parts of the world. Effectively protected, our Top End and Gulf waters will be a global haven that helps safeguard the world’s endangered sea turtles, vulnerable dugong, rare dolphins, migratory whales, and fragile coral reefs.