Shark Bay

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shark Bay, Western Australia
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Shark Bay
Type Natural
Criteria vii, viii, ix, x
Reference 578
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1991 (15th Session)
Louis Henri de Saulces de Freycinet's Useless Harbour in Shark Bay, seen from the SPOT satellite
Map of Shark Bay area

Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. It is an area centred approximately on 25°30′S 113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°E / -25.500; 113.500Coordinates: 25°30′S 113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°E / -25.500; 113.500, 800 kilometres north of Perth, on the westernmost point of Australia. An expedition led by Dirk Hartog happened upon the area in 1616, becoming the second group of Europeans known to have visited Australia.[1] Shark Bay was named by William Dampier, on 7 August 1699.[2]

The area has a population of fewer than 1,000 people and a coastline of over 1,500 kilometres. The half-dozen small communities making up this population occupy less than 1% of the total area.

Shark Bay World Heritage site[edit]

The World Heritage status of the region was created and negotiated in the 1990s.[3]


The bay itself covers an area of 10,000 km², with an average depth of 10 metres. It is divided by shallow banks and has many peninsulas and islands. The coastline is over 1,500 km long. There are about 300 km of limestone cliffs overlooking the bay.[4] 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.

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 Holland. It is now kept in the National Museum of Holland. 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 last-remaining habitats of Australian mammals threatened with extinction.[citation needed] 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 Conservatory is the guardian of Faure Island, off Monkey Mia. Seasonally, 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,[4] and there are many Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, particularly at Monkey Mia. The dolphins here have been particularly friendly since the 1960s.[4] 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, with many 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.[4] The endangered green and loggerhead 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.[4]


Shark Bay has the largest known area of seagrass, with seagrass meadows covering over 4,800 km² of the bay.[4] It includes the 1,030 km² Wooramel Seagrass Bank, the largest seagrass bank in the world.[5] 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.


About 10,000 years ago cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) began building up stromatolites in Hamelin Pool in the southern part of the bay.[6][7] 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.[4] They were first identified in 1956 at Hamelin Pool as a living species, 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.[5] It is hypothesized that some stromatolites contain a new form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll f.[8]

Protected area[edit]

Shark Bay was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1991. The site covers an area of 23,000 square kilometres. 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.

Denham and Useless Loop both fall within the boundary of the site but are specifically excluded from it. Shark Bay was the first to be classified on the Australian World Heritage list.

Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre[edit]

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


Shark Bay Road

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.

National Parks and Reserves[edit]

Dolphin at Monkey Mia

Bays of World Heritage area[edit]

Islands of World Heritage area[edit]

Peninsulas of the World Heritage area[edit]

IBRA sub regions of the Shark Bay Area[edit]

The Shark Bay area has three bioregions within the IBRA system: Carnarvon, Geraldton Sandplains, and Yalgoo.

They are further divided into subregions [9]

  • Carnarvon bioregion (CAR) –
    • Wooramel sub region (CAR2) – most of Peron Peninsula and coastline east of Hamelin Pool
    • Cape Range sub region (CAR1) – (not represented in area)
  • Geraldton Sandplains bioregion (GS) –
    • Geraldton Hills sub region (GS1) – Zuytdorp Nature Reserve area
    • Leseur sub region (GS2) – (not represented in area)
  • Yalgoo bioregion (YAL) –
    • Tallering sub region (YAL2) (not represented in area)
    • Edel subregion (YAL1) – Bernier, Dorre and Dirk Hartog Islands

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The crew of the Duyfken, under Willem Janszoon, visited Cape York in 1606).
  2. ^ Burney, James (1803). "7. Voyage of Captain William Dampier, in the Roebuck, to New Holland". A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean 4. London: G. & W. Nicol, G. & J. Robinson & T. Payne. p. 395. Retrieved 9 Oct 2013. 
  3. ^ Western Australia. Agreement between the state of Western Australia and the Commonwealth of Australia on administrative arrangements for the Shark Bay World Heritage Property in Western Australia. Perth, W.A. Dept. of Conservation and Land Management, 12 September 1997
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Riley, Laura and William (2005). Nature's Strongholds: The World's Great Wildlife Reserves. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 595–596. ISBN 0-691-12219-9. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Shark Bay, Western Australia". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 3 September 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  6. ^ Richard Macey (30 March 2008). "Earlier start to life on Earth". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Stromatolites of Shark Bay. Nature fact sheets. Department of Environment and Conservation. Retrieved on 3 September 2011.
  8. ^ Avolio C. First new chlorophyll in 60 years discovered at The University of Sydney Faculty of Science, 20 August 2010
  9. ^ Western Australia. Dept. of Environment and Conservation. (2007) Shark Bay terrestrial reserves and proposed reserve additions: draft management plan 2007 Department of Environment and Conservation; Conservation Commission of Western Australia. Bentley, W.A.: Dept. of Environment and Conservation. pages 37–39 section Bioregions and Figure 4: IBRA sub-regions of the Shark Bay Area (map)

Further reading[edit]

  • Edward Duyker François Péron: An Impetuous Life: Naturalist and Voyager, Miegunyah/MUP, Melb., 2006, p. 349, ISBN 978-0-522-85260-8 [winner Frank Broeze Maritime History Prize, 2007]

External links[edit]

Official websites
Additional information