The Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world stretching 300 kilometres, and is one of two coral reefs in the world that have formed on the western side of a continent. What makes the Ningaloo Reef great is its close proximity from the coast in many areas being only 5-10 metres offshore. It contains an endless list of spectacular snorkel and dive sites for you to explore. Its abundance of extraordinary marine life is what brings us, and thousands of people to this special slice of paradise. Below you’ll find some information on some of the Wildlife you can expect to encounter.
The Ningaloo Reef contains over 250 species of coral and over 500 species of fish with numerous studies continuing and developing within the area.
The coral in the Ningaloo Reef act as a vital source of coral larvae dispersing through the Abrolhos Islands, and even to Rottnest Island. Both soft and hard coral are native to the area, from cabbage corals, brain corals and lavender corals to delicate colourful branching corals, which form gardens in the shallow lagoons. Ningaloo Marine Park boasts an endless list of molluscs, crustaceans, algae and over 500 species of the most decorated and revered tropical fish in the world can be found including giant potato cod, sweetlip, spangled emperor and lionfish just to name a few.
Dugongs are closely related to the Manatee and are very similar in appearance and behavior, sometimes referred to as a ‘sea cow’ the dugongs spend their days grazing on sea grass found locally in the Ningaloo Reef.
These mammals can stay under water and hold their breath for up to six minutes before surfacing and have been known to breathe while standing on their own tail with their head out of the water. `
They are generally found alone or in pairs, can grow up to 3 metres, and weigh up to nearly 500kg, with a lifespan of up to 70 years! Dugongs are classified as extremely vulnerable extinction risk by the World Wildlife Fund so encountering a dugong is quite a special occasion as they are extremely shy creatures.
About Marine Turtles
The Ningaloo Reef is home to three species of turtle out of seven in the world, most commonly the Green Turtle, the Loggerhead Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle. They can commonly be found cruising around the reef in search of food.
During the months of November, December and January they begin nesting along the shores and islands of the Ningaloo Reef. Turtles nest in the very same place that they were born which means some turtles may travel huge distances just to lay their eggs. For this reason there are many volunteers who monitor these beaches and protect eggs as they hatch come February/March time.
For more information on how to volunteer the team over at The Ningaloo Turtle Program work in conjunction with the Cape Conservation Group, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Murdoch University, and WWF Australia and are always in search of keen environmentalist enthusiasts to help with the protection of these animals.
About Whale Sharks
Introducing our star of the show, our main attraction, our largest living fishy friend of the ocean… The Whale Shark!
Whale Sharks come in anywhere between 3 – 12 metres locally to the Ningaloo Reef, but could possibly reach between 15-20 metres in length! It is said that a 12 metre Whale Shark may weigh as much as 11 tonnes and have a mouth more than a metre wide which can stretch beyond this to optimise feeding. That’s enough room to fit thousands of tiny teeth, which come arranged in more than 300 rows! (Not that they’re much use, as the Whale Shark neither bites nor chews its food).
The Whale Shark is a passive creature and is one of three known filter feeding sharks, which favour a diet of mostly plankton and nektonic prey, including small crustaceans and small schooling fish. You’ll notice when the Whale Shark is actively feeding as they will pump large volumes of water through their gills at higher speed causing them to flare out. The size of the gills on this creature comes in only second to the basking shark.
Whale Sharks may live for more than 100 years and don’t start getting busy until they reach around 30! We often encounter more males than females along the Ningaloo Reef distinguished by the presence of claspers near the pelvic fin. Our photographer identifies each shark you will swim with to assist with ongoing marine studies in the area.
So what brings them to our beautiful coastline?
The Leeuwin Current originates right here in the Indian Ocean and with it, it brings warm tropical water which sweeps across the north of Australia and down the West Coast. This is ideal conditions for pristine coral growth, as well as bringing nutrients down from mangrove areas further north.
In March and April each year 7-10 days after the full moon the coral of the Ningaloo Reef will spawn. In the weeks following, swarms of tropical krill spawn and travel north along the reef front. These are high concentrations close to the surface laden with eggs and are exceptionally tasty to Whale Sharks not to mention in such high volume.
For more information on research, education and conservation head over to http://www.whaleshark.org.au they are a non-government, not-for-profit organization based in Western Australia who are passionate about Whale Sharks.