Shark Bay

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Shark Bay, Western Australia
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shark Bay Phytoplankton in Bloom.jpg
Shark Bay
Location Gascoyne region, Western Australia, Australia
Criteria Natural: vii, viii, ix, x
Reference 578
Inscription1991 (15th Session)
Area2,200,902 ha
Coordinates 25°30′S113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°E / -25.500; 113.500 Coordinates: 25°30′S113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°E / -25.500; 113.500
Australia relief map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of Shark Bay at the most westerly point of the Australian continent
Louis Henri de Saulces de Freycinet's Useless Harbour in Shark Bay, seen from the SPOT satellite Shark Bay SPOT 1188.jpg
Louis Henri de Saulces de Freycinet's Useless Harbour in Shark Bay, seen from the SPOT satellite
Map of Shark Bay area Shark Bay.svg
Map of Shark Bay area
Zuytdorp Cliffs Zuytdorp Cliffs.jpg
Zuytdorp Cliffs

Shark Bay (Malgana: Gutharraguda, "two waters") is a World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. The 23,000-square-kilometre (8,900 sq mi) [1] area is located approximately 800 kilometres (500 mi) north of Perth, on the westernmost point of the Australian continent. UNESCO's official listing of Shark Bay as a World Heritage Site reads:


Shark Bay’s waters, islands and peninsulas....have a number of exceptional natural features, including one of the largest and most diverse seagrass beds in the world. However it is for its stromatolites (colonies of microbial mats that form hard, dome-shaped deposits which are said to be the oldest life forms on earth), that the property is most renowned. The property is also famous for its rich marine life including a large population of dugongs, and provides a refuge for a number of other globally threatened species. [2]


The record of Australian Aboriginal occupation of Shark Bay extends to 22,000 years BP. At that time most of the area was dry land, rising sea levels flooding Shark Bay between 8,000 BP and 6,000 BP. A considerable number of aboriginal midden sites have been found, especially on Peron Peninsula and Dirk Hartog Island which provide evidence of some of the foods gathered from the waters and nearby land areas. [2]

An expedition led by Dirk Hartog happened upon the area in 1616, becoming the second group of Europeans known to have visited Australia. (The crew of the Duyfken , under Willem Janszoon, had visited Cape York in 1606). The area was given the name Shark Bay by the English explorer William Dampier, on 7 August 1699. [3]

Commercial whaling was conducted in the bay in the first half of the 20th century by Norwegian owned factory ships and their catcher vessels. [4] In the late 1930s up to 1,000 humpback whales were taken per season.

The heritagelisted area had a population of fewer than 1,000 people as at the 2011 census and a coastline of over 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). The half-dozen small communities making up this population occupy less than 1% of the total area.

Shark Bay World Heritage site

The World Heritage status of the region was created and negotiated in 1991. [5] The site was gazetted on the Australian National Heritage List on 21 May 2007 [6] under the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1), 2003 (Cth). [7]

Protected areas

Declared as a World Heritage Site in 1991, the site covers an area of 23,000 km2 (8,900 sq mi), of which about 70 per cent are marine waters. It includes many protected areas and conservation reserves, including Shark Bay Marine Park, Francois Peron National Park, Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Zuytdorp Nature Reserve and numerous protected islands. [2] Denham and Useless Loop both fall within the boundary of the site, yet are specifically excluded from it.


The bay itself covers an area of 1,300,000 hectares (3,200,000 acres), with an average depth of 9 metres (30 ft). [2] It is divided by shallow banks and has many peninsulas and islands. The coastline is over 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) long. There are about 300 kilometres (190 mi) of limestone cliffs overlooking the bay. [8] One spectacular segment of cliffs is known as the Zuytdorp Cliffs. The bay is located in the transition zone between three major climatic regions and between two major botanical provinces.

Peron Peninsula divides the bay and is the home of its largest settlements as well as a National Park at the northern end.

Dirk Hartog Island is of historical significance due to landings upon it by early explorers. In 1616, Dirk Hartog landed at Inscription Point on the north end of the island and marked his discovery with a pewter plate, inscribed with the date and nailed to a post. This plate was then replaced by Willem de Vlamingh and returned to the Netherlands. It is now kept in the Rijksmuseum. There is a replica in the Shark Bay Discovery Centre in Denham.

Bernier and Dorre islands in the north-west corner of the heritage area are among the last-remaining habitats of two varieties of Australian mammals, hare-wallabies, threatened with extinction. [9] They are used, with numerous other smaller islands throughout the marine park, to release threatened species that are being bred at Project Eden in François Peron National Park. These islands are free of feral non-native animals which might predate the threatened species, and so provide a safe haven of pristine environment on which to restore species that are threatened on the mainland.

The Australian Wildlife Conservancy is the guardian of Faure Island, off Monkey Mia. Seasonally, sea turtles come here to nest and are the subject of studies conducted in conjunction with the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) on this sheltered island.


Shark Bay is an area of major zoological importance. It is home to about 10,000 dugongs ('sea cows'), around 12.5% of the world's population, [8] and there are many Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, particularly at Monkey Mia. The dolphins here have been particularly friendly since the 1960s. [8] The area supports 26 threatened Australian mammal species, over 230 species of bird, and nearly 150 species of reptile. It is an important breeding and nursery ground for fish, crustaceans, and coelenterates. There are over 323 fish species, many of them sharks and rays.

Some bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay exhibit one of the few known cases of tool use in marine mammals (along with sea otters): they protect their nose with a sponge while foraging for food in the sandy sea bottom. Humpback and southern right whales use the waters of the bay as migratory staging post [8] while other species such as Bryde's whale come into the bay less frequently but to feed or rest. The threatened green and loggerhead sea turtles nest on the bay's sandy beaches. The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, gathers in the bay during the April and May full moons. [8]


Shark Bay has the largest known area of seagrass, with seagrass meadows covering over 4,000 km2 (1,500 sq mi) of the bay. [1] It includes the 1,030 km2 (400 sq mi) Wooramel Seagrass Bank, the largest seagrass bank in the world [6] and contains a 200 km2 (77 sq mi)Posidonia australis meadow formed by a single plant, the largest in the world. [10]

Shark Bay also contains the largest number of seagrass species ever recorded in one place; twelve species have been found, with up to nine occurring together in some places. The seagrasses are a vital part of the complex environment of the bay. Over thousands of years, sediment and shell fragments have accumulated in the seagrasses to form vast expanses of seagrass beds. This has raised the sea floor, making the bay shallower. Seagrasses are the basis of the food chain in Shark Bay, providing home and shelter to various marine species and attracting the dugong population.

In Shark Bay's hot, dry climate, evaporation greatly exceeds the annual precipitation rate. Thus, the seawater in the shallow bays becomes very salt-concentrated, or 'hypersaline'. Seagrasses also restrict the tidal flow of waters through the bay area, preventing the ocean tides from diluting the sea water. The water of the bay is 1.5 to 2 times more salty than the surrounding ocean waters.

Stromatolites in Hamelin Pool are ancient structures that are built by microbes. Stromatolites in Shark Bay.jpg
Stromatolites in Hamelin Pool are ancient structures that are built by microbes.


Based on growth rate it is believed that about 1,000 years ago cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) began building up stromatolites in Hamelin Pool at the Hamelin Station Reserve in the southern part of the bay. [11] [12] These structures are modern equivalents of the earliest signs of life on Earth, with fossilized stromatolites being found dating from 3.5 billion years ago at North Pole near Marble Bar, in Western Australia, and are considered the longest continuing biological lineage. [8] They were first identified in 1956 at Hamelin Pool as a living species[ dubious ], before that only being known in the fossil record. Hamelin Pool contains the most diverse and abundant examples of living stromatolite forms in the world. Other occurrences are found at Lake Clifton near Mandurah and Lake Thetis near Cervantes. [6] It is hypothesized that some stromatolites contain a new form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll f. [13]

Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre

Facilities around the World Heritage area, provided by the Shire of Shark Bay and the WA Department of Environment and Conservation, include the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham which provides interactive displays and comprehensive information about the features of the region.


Access to Shark Bay is by air via Shark Bay Airport, and by the World Heritage Drive, a 150 km link road between Denham and the Overlander Roadhouse on the North West Coastal Highway.

Specific reserved areas

National parks and reserves in the World Heritage Area

Dolphin at Monkey Mia A143, Shark Bay Marine Park, Western Australia, dolphin, 2007.JPG
Dolphin at Monkey Mia
Shell Beach A226, Shark Bay Marine Park, Western Australia, Shell Beach, 2007.JPG
Shell Beach

Bays of the World Heritage area

Islands of the World Heritage area

Peninsulas of the World Heritage area

IBRA sub regions of the Shark Bay Area

The Shark Bay area has three bioregions within the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) system: Carnarvon, Geraldton Sandplains, and Yalgoo. The bioregions are further divided into subbioregions: [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Francois Peron National Park Protected area in Western Australia

Francois Peron National Park is a national park on the Peron Peninsula in Western Australia, 726 km north of Perth, and located within the boundary of the Shark Bay World Heritage area. The nearest towns to the park are Denham, which is found on the southern edge of the park and Carnarvon which is found about 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the north.

Dirk Hartog Island Island on coast of Gascoyne region of Western Australia

Dirk Hartog Island is an island off the Gascoyne coast of Western Australia, within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It is about 80 kilometres long and between 3 and 15 kilometres wide and is Western Australia's largest and most western island. It covers an area of 620 square kilometres and is approximately 850 kilometres north of Perth. It was named after Dirk Hartog, a Dutch sea captain, who first encountered the Western Australian coastline close to the 26th parallel south latitude, which runs through the island. After leaving the island, Hartog continued his voyage north-east along the mainland coast. Hartog gave the Australian mainland one of its earliest known names, as Eendrachtsland, which he named after his ship Eendracht, meaning "concord". The island is now the location of a major environmental reconstruction project, Return to 1616, that has seen all introduced livestock and feral animals removed, with eleven native species now in various stages of reintroduction.

Cape Peron Headland south of Fremantle, Western Australia

Cape Peron is a headland at Rockingham, at the southern end of Cockburn Sound in Western Australia. The cape is locally known as Point Peron, and is noted for its protected beaches, limestone cliffs, reefs and panoramic views. Cape Peron includes the suburb of Peron and "Point Peron" is the designation of a minor promontory on the south side of the cape's extremity.

Shark Bay Marine Park Marine protected area in Western Australia

The Shark Bay Marine Park is protected marine park located within the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Shark Bay, in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. The 748,725-hectare (1,850,140-acre) marine park is situated over 800 km (500 mi) north of Perth and 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Geraldton.

Denham, Western Australia Town in Western Australia

Denham is the administrative town for the Shire of Shark Bay, Western Australia. At the 2016 census, Denham had a population of 754. Located on the western coast of the Peron Peninsula 831 kilometres (516 mi) north of Perth, Denham is the westernmost publicly accessible town in Australia, and is named in honour of Captain Henry Mangles Denham of the Royal Navy, who charted Shark Bay in 1858. Today, Denham survives as the gateway for the tourists who come to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia, which is located 23 kilometres (14 mi) northeast of the town. The town also has an attractive beach and a jetty popular with those interested in fishing and boating.

Carnarvon xeric shrublands Terrestrial ecoregion in Western Australia

The Carnarvon xeric shrublands is a deserts and xeric shrublands ecoregion of Western Australia. The ecoregion is coterminous with the Carnarvon Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) bioregion.

Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve Protected area in Western Australia

The Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve is a protected marine nature reserve located in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Shark Bay in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. The 127,000-hectare (310,000-acre) nature reserve boasts the most diverse and abundant examples of living marine stromatolites in the world, monuments to life on Earth over 3,500 million years BP.

Western barred bandicoot Species of marsupial

The Western barred bandicoot, also known as the Marl, is a small species of bandicoot; now extinct across most of its former range, the western barred bandicoot only survives on offshore islands and in fenced sanctuaries on the mainland.

Shire of Shark Bay Local government area in Western Australia

The Shire of Shark Bay is a local government area of Western Australia in the Gascoyne region. It has an area of 25,423 km² and a population of about 950. It is made up of two peninsulas, located at the westernmost point of Australia. There is one town in the Shire of Shark Bay, Denham, which is the administrative centre for the Shire. There are also a number of small communities; they are Useless Loop, Monkey Mia, Nanga and Hamelin Pool. The Overlander and The Billabong are roadhouses.

Yalgoo bioregion Bioregion in Western Australia

Yalgoo is an interim Australian bioregion located in Western Australia. It has an area of 5,087,577 hectares. The bioregion, together with the Avon Wheatbelt and Geraldton Sandplains bioregions, is part of the larger Southwest Australia savanna ecoregion as classified by the World Wildlife Fund.

Faure Island Island in Shark Bay, Western Australia

Faure Island is a 58 km2 island pastoral lease and nature reserve, east of the Francois Peron National Park on the Peron Peninsula, in Shark Bay, Western Australia. It lies in line with the Monkey Mia resort to the west, and the Wooramel River on the eastern shore of Shark Bay. It is surrounded by the Shark Bay Marine Park and Shark Bay World Heritage Site and, as the Faure Island Sanctuary, is owned and managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC).

Central Western Shelf Province Marine bioregion in Western Australia

The Central Western Shelf Province, also known as the Shark Bay marine ecoregion, is a biogeographic region of Australia's continental shelf and coastal waters. It includes the subtropical coastal waters of Western Australia.

Wooramel Seagrass Bank is a large deposit of carbonate sediment, a sand bank, formed by diverse communities of seagrasses off the coast of Carnarvon, Western Australia. The mattes of seagrass meadows and stands consolidate a shallow platform of sandy substrate by acting as an organic baffle against currents and tides. These colonies provide food and shelter to many of the species within the Shark Bay Marine Park.

Peron Peninsula Peninsula in Shark Bay in Western Australia

Peron Peninsula is a long narrow peninsula located in the Shark Bay World Heritage site in Western Australia, at about 25°51' S longitude and 113°30' E latitude. It is some 130 kilometres (81 mi) long, running north-northwesterly, located east of Henri Freycinet Harbour and west of Havre Hamelin and Faure Island. It is the largest of the Shark Bay peninsulas. Significant settlements include Denham and Monkey Mia. An airport is located there. It is the location of former Pastoral leases Peron and Nanga stations. It is the main location of land access to points within the World Heritage site. The northern area contains the Francois Peron National Park. It is surrounded by the Shark Bay Marine Park and its lower southeast part is adjacent to the Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve.

L'Haridon Bight is one of the bays on the eastern side of the Peron Peninsula in the Shark Bay World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia.

Henri Freycinet Harbour, also known as Freycinet Estuary, is one of the inner gulfs of Shark Bay, Western Australia, a World Heritage Site that lies to the west of the Peron Peninsula.

The Seagrasses of Western Australia are submerged flowering plants found along the coast, around islands, and in Estuaries of Western Australia. The region contains some of the largest seagrass meadows in the world, and is the most diverse in the number of species. The variety of habitats along its western and southern coasts is often soft sands in shallow subtropical waters, ideal for these plants.

Western grasswren Species of bird

The western grasswren, also referred to as the thick-billed grasswren and, formerly, as the textile wren, is a species of bird in the family Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia. It was formerly lumped as the nominate subspecies of the thick-billed grasswren.

Phillip Elliott Playford was an Australian geologist who made important contributions to sedimentary geology, oil exploration in Western Australia and maritime history. He has made contributions to the recording of aboriginal art and culture from the north of Western Australia.

The Malgana are an indigenous Australian people of Western Australia.


  1. 1 2 [ bare URL ]
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Further reading