Ningaloo Marine Park
The rich natural and cultural heritage of the coral coast is now protected within two major parks. Cape Range National Park which, once pastoral land was declared a national park in 1964. Ningaloo Marine Park stretches along 260 km of coastline and was established by the State and Commonwealth Governments in 1987. The Cape Range National Park which has some spectacular gorges is an area of 50,581 hectares and its main area is focused on the west coast of the Cape which provides a large variety of camp sites on the coastal fringe of the Park.
The Ningaloo Marine Park ranks seventh on the world's list of coral reef biodiversity 'hotspots' and second in terms of the number of species found within a limited range. It stretches for 260 kilometres and is the world's largest fringing reef found so close to a continental land mass; so close that in some areas it's only 100 metres from shore, making it easily accessible for coral viewing and it's free! The reef contains a diverse range of species including more than 200 corals, 500 fish, and 600 different types of molluscs.
Our region offers the opportunity to encounter one of the world's largest aggregations of whale sharks, as well as internationally significant populations of manta rays, dugongs, turtles, rays, sharks, humpback and other whales.
Marine Life of Ningaloo
The Ningaloo Reef is one of only a few places in the world where the giant Whale Shark regularly visits. Whale Sharks are large plankton feeding sharks that may grow to 18 metres in length. This shark is creating a lot of interest throughout the world and many people travel to Exmouth to snorkel with and observe these gentle giants. The Whale Sharks arrive in these waters in March and April each year. Not a lot is known about these sharks at this time, however studies are currently being undertaken.
There are some 500 species of fish on the Ningaloo Reef. Some of the most common smaller fish are the Parrot Fish, Butterfly Fish, Angel Fish, Damsel Fish, Scissor Tails & Wrasse. There are also many larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Cod, Trevally, Mackerel and the occasional small Reef Shark. Many of the fish spend their entire lives in the one area of the reef as they are territorial. In particular the smaller tropical fish of the reef spend most of their life in the one location.
Turtles are common to this area and there are 3 known species that regularly frequent the beaches. The most common is the Green Turtle followed by the Loggerheads and Hawksbills. Between the months of October and April the Turtles mate close to shore. The females then come ashore to lay their eggs which are soft shelled and look like table tennis balls. During this time it is very important that the females are not disturbed. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the sand in which they are buried. Generally if the sand is warm the hatchlings will be predominately female.
The Exmouth area and the Ningaloo Reef are becoming increasingly important to the study of Humpback Whales. These animals can be seen migrating north to their breeding grounds on the North West Shelf. They can be seen in this area anytime between May and October each year. Other whales found in this area are - Pygmy Whales, Pilot Whales, Killer Whales and False Killer Whales. Whales are often seen close to shore and are also often seen in the shallow waters of the Exmouth Gulf.
Another common visitor to the Ningaloo Reef is the giant Manta Ray, these rays can be up to 4 metres across their wings. They are dark on their upper body and white underneath and are usually accompanied by large Cobia and schools of remora (small suckerfish).