• Eclipse visitors encouraged to learn more about region’s natural wonders
  • Exmouth Gulf was supposed to be part of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area
  • Exmouth Gulf faces industrial threats from port and saltworks
  • WA Government has promised environmental protection plan and needs to push ahead of industrial developers

When thousands of people flock to the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast for the best vantage point in the world for the solar eclipse on Thursday, few would know that much of this fragile region is still unprotected from industrial development. Campaigners will be joining the special celebrations this week and encouraging visitors to learn more about the major decisions that will determine the fate of the region.

Ningaloo, with its famous reef and whale sharks, was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2011, yet Exmouth Gulf, on the other side of the Cape Range peninsula, missed out despite being recommended for inclusion.

Protect Ningaloo Director Paul Gamblin said: “Ningaloo and Exmouth are justifiably famed for bucket list tourism experiences, and for that reason alone we need to take great care of this fragile ecosystem. For over 20 years, the community has rallied to protect what makes Ningaloo special, and once again the local community and many thousands across the country and the world are calling for Ningaloo to be better protected.

“Exmouth Gulf has as much spectacular marine life as Ningaloo. The Gulf is a globally significant humpback whale nursery, serving as a waystation to humpback mothers with young calves looking to rest and fatten up in preparation for the long trip to Antarctica. It also boasts dugongs, dolphins, orcas and rare marine species such as sawfish and hawksbill turtles that inhabit the relatively undeveloped area.

“The Western Australian Government has responded to growing expectations for long overdue protection of Exmouth Gulf and committed to new conservation areas and established a taskforce to provide strategic advice on further protection and management of the area, but industrial developers are champing at the bit. Exmouth Gulf is at a crossroads.

“Gascoyne Gateway wants to build an industrial deepwater port and dredge the seafloor just south of Exmouth and, on the other side of the gulf, German industrial company K+S Salt is looking to develop a massive saltworks over a nationally listed wetland. If these proposals are approved, it would also likely open the door to further industrialisation of the area.

“This wetland provides critical habitat and underpins biological productivity in the gulf, supporting many threatened species found in the area, including sawfish, turtles, dugongs, shovelnose rays and migratory shorebirds. There is a risk that leaks of toxic hypersaline water could kill highly sensitive mangroves and harm marine animals, many already endangered, living in the nearby creeks and marine waters.

“Ningaloo-Exmouth Gulf serves as a source of hope as vital habitats such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows buckle under pressure around the world, and more species than ever face extinction. As the eyes of the world fall on Exmouth for the solar eclipse, we sincerely hope this inspires a thoughtful, science-based approach to protecting Exmouth Gulf while we still can.”

Feature image: Andre Rerekura