Shark Bay

Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. The 2,200,902-hectare (5,438,550-acre) 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.[1]
Shark Bay, Western Australia
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shark Bay Phytoplankton in Bloom
Shark Bay
LocationGascoyne region, Western Australia, Australia
CriteriaNatural: vii, viii, ix, x
Inscription1991 (15th Session)
Area2,200,902 ha
Coordinates25°30′S 113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°ECoordinates: 25°30′S 113°30′E / 25.500°S 113.500°E
Shark Bay is located in Australia
Shark Bay
Location of Shark Bay at the most westerly point of the Australian continent
Shark Bay SPOT 1188
Louis Henri de Saulces de Freycinet's Useless Harbour in Shark Bay, seen from the SPOT satellite
Shark Bay
Map of Shark Bay area


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.[1]

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.[2]

The heritage–listed 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.[3] The site was gazetted on the Australian National Heritage List on 21 May 2007[4] under the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1), 2003 (Cth).[5]

Protected areas

Declared as a World Heritage Site in 1991, the site covers an area of 2,200,902 hectares (5,438,550 acres), 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.[1] Denham and Useless Loop both fall within the boundary of the site, yet are specifically excluded from it. Shark Bay was the first Australian site to be classified on the World Heritage list.


The bay itself covers an area of 1,300,000 hectares (3,200,000 acres), with an average depth of 9 metres (30 ft).[1] 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.[6] 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 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 Australian mammals threatened with extinction. 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,[6] and there are many Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, particularly at Monkey Mia. The dolphins here have been particularly friendly since the 1960s.[6] 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 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[6] 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.[6]


Shark Bay has the largest known area of seagrass, with seagrass meadows covering over 480,000 hectares (1,200,000 acres) of the bay.[6] It includes the 103,000-hectare (250,000-acre) Wooramel Seagrass Bank, the largest seagrass bank in the world.[4] 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 Shark Bay
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.[7][8] 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.[6] 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.[4] It is hypothesized that some stromatolites contain a new form of chlorophyll, chlorophyll f.[9]

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

A143, Shark Bay Marine Park, Western Australia, dolphin, 2007
Dolphin at Monkey Mia

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 sub–bioregions:[10]

  • 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


  1. ^ a b c d "Shark Bay, Western Australia". World Heritage List. UNESCO. 2014. Archived from the original on 3 August 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  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 October 2013.
  3. ^ 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. WA Department of Conservation and Land Management. Perth, W.A.: Government of Western Australia. 12 September 1997.
  4. ^ a b c "Shark Bay, Western Australia". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Australian Government. 3 September 2008. Archived from the original on 27 August 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  5. ^ "Determination regarding including World Heritage places in the National Heritage List" (PDF). Special government gazette (PDF). Department of the Environment and Water Resources, Commonwealth of Australia. 21 May 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Giusfredi, Paige E. (22 July 2014). Hamelin Pool Stromatolites: Ages and Interactions with the Depositional Environment. Miami, FL: University of Miami. Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  8. ^ "Stromatolites of Shark Bay: Nature fact sheets". WA Department of Environment and Conservation. Government of Western Australia. Archived from the original on 9 November 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  9. ^ Avolio C. (20 August 2010). "First new chlorophyll in 60 years discovered" (Press release). Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Bioregions; Figure 4: IBRA sub-regions of the Shark Bay Area (map)". Shark Bay terrestrial reserves and proposed reserve additions: draft management plan 2007. WA Department of Environment and Conservation; Conservation Commission of Western Australia. Bentley, WA: Government of Western Australia. 2007. pp. 37–39.

Further reading

  • Duyker, Edward (2006). François Péron: An Impetuous Life: Naturalist and Voyager. Melbourne, Victoria: Miegunyah/MUP. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-522-85260-8. (Winner, Frank Broeze Maritime History Prize, 2007).

External links

Carnarvon (biogeographic region)

Carnarvon is an Australian bioregion in Western Australia. This area is also referred to physiographically as the Carnarvon Basin, where it is a physiographic province of the larger West Australian Shield division.

It has two sub regions:

Wooramel, which is a significant part of the Shark Bay World Heritage area

Cape Range


Centrino is a brand name of Intel Corporation which represents its Wi-Fi and WiMAX wireless computer networking adapters. Previously the same brand name was used by the company as a platform-marketing initiative. The change of the meaning of the brandname occurred on January 7, 2010.

The old platform-marketing brand name covered a particular combination of mainboard chipset, mobile CPU and wireless network interface in the design of a laptop. Intel claimed that systems equipped with these technologies delivered better performance, longer battery life and broader wireless network interoperability than non-Centrino systems.

The new product line name for Intel wireless products is Intel Centrino Wireless.

Denham, 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.

The Denham region was the second area of the Australian mainland discovered by European sailors, after the western coast of Cape York Peninsula.

Dirk Hartog

Dirk Hartog (Dutch pronunciation: [dɪrk ˈɦɑrtɔx]; baptized 30 October 1580, Amsterdam – buried 11 October 1621, Amsterdam) was a 17th-century Dutch sailor and explorer. Dirk Hartog's expedition was the second European group to land in Australia and the first to leave behind an artefact to record his visit, the Hartog plate. His name is sometimes alternatively spelled Dirck Hartog or Dierick Hartochszch. Ernest Giles referred to him as Theodoric Hartog.

Dirk Hartog Island

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 (50 miles) long and between 3 and 15 kilometres (1.9 and 9.3 miles) wide and is Western Australia's largest and most western island. It covers an area of 620 square kilometres (240 square miles) and is approximately 850 kilometres (530 miles) 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 "Unity".


Djoongari – Pseudomys fieldi – is a species of rodent in the murid family. The common names have included the Shark Bay and Alice Springs mouse. The range of the species in Australia has become restricted to four islands in the Shark Bay area. It was once found throughout the western two thirds of Australia but it suffered greatly after the arrival of Europeans and feral animals. Its range was reduced to coastal sand dunes on Bernier Island, leaving it severely endangered. In 2003 the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) released some Shark Bay mice onto Faure Island in the hope of creating another population. Despite the presence of owls the reintroduction was successful and the population quickly grew to a larger size than that of Bernier Island, no longer leaving the species on the brink of extinction.

Faure Island

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).

Francois Peron National Park

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.


The Gascoyne region is one of the nine administrative regions of Western Australia. It is located in the north west of Western Australia, and consists of the local government areas of Carnarvon, Exmouth, Shark Bay and Upper Gascoyne. The Gascoyne has about 600 km (370 mi) of Indian Ocean coastline; extends inland about 500 km (310 mi); and has an area of 138,000 km2 (53,000 sq mi), including islands.

Major roads in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia

Main Roads Western Australia controls the major roads in the state's Gascoyne region. North West Coastal Highway, a north-south route near the coastline, is the main highway the region. A series of main roads connect coastal towns to the highway, and local roads provide additional links and access to the inland portion of the region. Roads are often named after the towns or areas they connect.North West Coastal Highway and the main roads in the region are important for multiple aspects of the Gascoyne's economy. These include industrial activities, particularly gold and salt mining; defence purposes; freight movement, including livestock, as there is no deep-water port in the region; and tourist traffic travelling to National Parks, such as Cape Range, Kennedy Range and Mount Augustus, and the World Heritage sites of the Shark Bay and the Ningaloo Marine Park.

Malgana language

Malgana is the Aboriginal Australian language of the Malgana people. It is one of the Kartu languages of the Pama–Nyungan family of languages.

Malgana country is the area around Shark Bay in Western Australia. In particular it includes the Peron and Edel Land Peninsulas as well as some of the adjoining land. The Irra Wangga Language Centre (having taken over from the Yamaji Language Centre) has been carrying out work on the Malgana language since 1995 and has produced an illustrated wordlist as well as grammatical materials and a dictionary (the latter two unpublished).

'Targuda'/'Daguda', 'Buluguda', 'Damala', and 'Watjanti' were likely Malgana-speaking locations, rather than dialects, but it's possible they were Nhanda instead.

Monkey Mia

Monkey Mia is a popular tourist destination located about 900 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The reserve is 25 km northeast of the town of Denham in the Shark Bay Marine Park and World Heritage Site.

The main attraction are the bottlenose dolphins that have been coming close to shore for more than fifty years. Rangers from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (Western Australia) carefully supervise the Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience.

Nethalp language

Nethalp, or Lorediakarkar, is a language of the East Santo languages, a group of languages in the Austronesian family of Languages. It is spoken by about 340 people out of an ethnic population of 850 on Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu. It is close to the Shark Bay language.

Ngen language

Ngen, or Shark Bay, is one of the East Santo languages group of languages. It is spoken on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. It has about 450 speakers. It is close to Lorediakarkar.

Pearling in Western Australia

Pearling in Western Australia existed well before European settlement. Coastal dwelling Aboriginal people had collected and traded pearl shell as well as trepang and tortoise with fisherman from Sulawesi for possibly hundreds of years. After settlement the Aborigines were used as slave labour in the emerging commercial industry. Pearling centred first around Nickol Bay and Exmouth Gulf and then around Broome to become the largest in the world by 1910. The farming of cultured pearls remains an important part of the Kimberley economy, worth $67 million in 2014 and is the second largest fisheries industry in WA after rock lobster.

Shark Bay Airport

Shark Bay Airport (IATA: MJK, ICAO: YSHK) is an airport located on the Peron Peninsula within the Shark Bay World Heritage site in the Gascoyne region serving Monkey Mia, a resort in Western Australia, and the nearby town of Denham.

Shire of Shark Bay

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 (a now-closed mining site), Monkey Mia (a popular resort where dolphins come in), Nanga and Hamelin Pool. The Overlander and The Billabong are roadhouses.

Woodleigh crater

Woodleigh is a large meteorite impact crater (astrobleme) in Western Australia, centred on Woodleigh Station east of Shark Bay, Gascoyne region. A team of four scientists at the Geological Survey of Western Australia and the Australian National University, led by Arthur J. Mory, announced the discovery in the 15 April 2000 issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Yalgoo (biogeographic region)

Yalgoo is an interim Australia bioregion located in Western Australia, comprising 5,087,577 hectares (12,571,680 acres).In the IBRA system it has the code of (YAL), and it has two sub-regions:

Edel (YAL01) that is a significant component of the Shark Bay, Western Australia World Heritage area.

Tallering sub-region (YAL02)The region is also part of the larger Southwest Australia savanna ecoregion, as classified by the World Wildlife Fund.

New South Wales
Northern Territory
South Australia
Western Australia
External territories
Marine reserves
Marine and coastal parks
Marine sanctuaries


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