Ningaloo Coast Cape Range Gorges Photo: Jen Hollis / DBCA The rugged gorges and wave cut limestone escarpments of Cape Range
Photo: © Jen Hollis / DBCA

The 604,500 hectare marine and terrestrial property of the Ningaloo Coast, on the remote WA coast near Exmouth, includes one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world. The property stretches more than 300km along the coast and encompasses the Muiron Islands to the north, the Bundegi and Jurabi coastal parks at the tip of Cape Range, Ningaloo Marine Park (which extends up to 22km offshore), the adjoining Learmonth Air Weapons Range and Cape Range National Park.

The Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area was inscribed on the World Heritage list on 24 June 2011 under two of the natural World Heritage Outstanding Universal Value criteria including containing areas of incredible natural beauty, and containing the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity. The following features are representative of these criteria:

Coastal and marine habitats

  • The rare mix of intact, diverse and large-scale terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats form an incredible interconnected ecosystem.
  • Habitats include the deep sea, continental shelf, slope and coral reef communities of Ningaloo Reef; Murion Islands; estuarine habitats of Yardie Creek and Mangrove Bay; rugged gorges and wave cut limestone escarpments of Cape Range; and the karst aquifers within the Cape Range peninsula.

Exceptional natural beauty

  • There is a stark and striking contrast between the rugged, arid Cape Range, the sparkling white beaches, and the clear, turquoise colours and underwater scenery of Ningaloo Reef
  • The proximity of Ningaloo Reef to an arid continental coast distinguishes it from most reefs in the world which are found in wet tropical rainforest areas.

Ningaloo Reef biodiversity

  • One of the longest and most pristine fringing reefs in the world, Ningaloo Reef has an unusually narrow continental shelf. The deep oceanic waters, the reef and coastline communities are in close proximity resulting in a huge array of internationally significant and healthy marine life coexisting in one area.
  • More than 200 coral, 500 fish, 650 mollusc, 600 crustacean, 1000 marine algae, 155 sponge and 25 echinoderm species are found on the shelf, slope and deep sea habitats, many of which are new discoveries.

Whale sharks

  • The area has one of the largest, most reliable and best managed whale shark aggregations in the world
  • An estimated 300-500 whale sharks make their way to Ningaloo annually around the time of the mass coral spawning event and seasonal nutrient upwellings.
  • 85 percent of the whale sharks that visit Ningaloo are juvenile males (with an average size of 5m).

Mega marine life

  • Globally important and threatened mega marine life are also found here including whales, dolphins, manta rays, dugongs, orcas, sharks, turtles and large fish such as tuna and billfish.
  • The Ningaloo Coast is a migratory route for humpback whales and other whales. The Exmouth Gulf is a key humpback whale nursery with the highest density in the southern hemisphere.

Turtle nesting

  • The Ningaloo Coast is one of the most important turtle nesting rookeries in the Indian Ocean. Three of the world’s seven species of marine turtle mate in the shallows and nest along the Ningaloo coast: the endangered loggerhead turtle, the vulnerable green turtle and the vulnerable hawksbill turtle.
  • The area provides a large stretch of natural and undisturbed nesting sites.

Cape Range plants and animals

  • Cape Range is a biogeographic transition zone between the tropic, temperate and desert regions, resulting in an exceptionally high diversity of plants, birds and reptiles, a high proportion of which are found nowhere else in the world.
  • Reptile species include the Exmouth spiny-tailed gecko, western netted dragon and west coast banded snake
  • The area hosts eucalypt woodlands, acacia scrublands and spinifex grasslands. There are more than 630 plant species on the range including the endemic Yardie Morning Glory (Ipomoea yardiensis).

Cape Range karst system

  • Under the Cape Range Peninsula lies a complex limestone karst system that is home to a high diversity of unique subterranean fauna. The 535 caves that have been recorded are up to 100m deep and interconnected across 6km.
  • More than 80 species of subterranean fauna inhabit these caves. The majority are only found within this area. Many display a high level of adaptation to cave life such as pale in colour and not having eyes.

More information

Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Advisory Committee

Each World Heritage area is overseen by a State Cabinet-appointed advisory committee. These committees provide advice to managing agencies and State and Australian Government ministers to assist in protecting the Outstanding Universal Value of each area.

Find out more about the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Advisory Committee.

  • Cave Gudgeon (Milyeringa veritas). Photo by Douglas Elford/Western Australian Museum
    The blind cave gudgeon (Milyeringa veritas) is endemic to Cape Range
    Photo: © Douglas Elford/Western Australian Museum
  • Ningaloo aerial photo Cam Skirving
    The striking contrast between the rugged Cape Range, the sparkling white beaches, and the clear, turquoise colours of Ningaloo Reef
    Photo: © Cam Skirving
  • Ningaloo whale shark Migration Media
    Whale shark
    Photo: © Migration Media