The Project of Eden and a Marine Paradise

This week has reignited my optimism for nature and natural wonders. I have discovered some natural resources that are well managed, and some projects and efforts are allowing nature to fight back. We have spent a wonderful chunk of time in The Shark Bay World Heritage Area. This is home to a brilliantly protected marine sanctuary and the inspiring Project Eden.

Shark Bay was declared a World Heritage Area in 1991, about the same time as the main pastoral leasehold expired and the government took back the land. The area is situated on two peninsulas. The geography of the land has inspired a wonderfully unique program to help conserve some Australian fauna and flora. Because such a large area of land is out on a peninsula, an electric fence has been constructed across the spit, and authorities have made an enormous effort to eradicate feral goats, sheep, foxes, rabbits, cats and non-native plants. This program has been successful enough to reintroduce several species of reptiles and marsupials that were previously extinct from the area, with great success. Species include the bilby, malee fowl and hopping mouse just to name a few, and numbers are increasing. There are plans to reintroduce more species in the future. The bays are also a large marine sanctuary, were fishing is heavily controlled and banned entirely in some key areas. Only whiting and sardines are fished commercially so as you can imagine, the place is teaming with life.

StomatolitesOur first stop was Hamelin Pool, one of only two places you can see living Stromatolites. 2 billion years ago, the earth was covered with them, and they are thought to be the organism that oxygenated the planet, allowing life to flourish. The place itself also has an old Telegraph station, post office, general store, caravan park, and not much else. Most people just visit for an hour or two on the way towards other attractions, but we decided to use it as a base to visit Steep Point, mainland Australia’s most westerly point.

Steep PointZuytdorp Cliff viewWe got up really early for the 124 km journey. That doesn’t sound like much, but most of the track is 4WD only, and very slow going. Mike had a ball gunning it up dunes and along sand corrugated tracks, and the kids thought it was a blast. It took us around 3.5 hours to get to the point, but it was well worth the effort. We forgot our tripod to take a family picture, but very handily there was a tripole in front of the famous sign, all ready and positioned with a proper camera screw mount. Just 100 meters from the point was a small fishing spot, a 5 meter cliff around a small cove, which was pretty in itself. To our delight and amazement, 5 manta rays turned up to filter feed near the face. We spoke to one of the old boys fishing there, who had been coming to this fishing spot on a yearly basis for over 15 years. He has seen dolphins, sharks, sea snakes and even a whale shark off the point, but he had never seen a manta ray before. We spent almost an hour standing there watching them and working our camera overtime. A loggerhead turtle and several schools of fish also decided to pop by and say hello. The kids were just fascinated.

Further down the road we lunched on a deserted and pristine beach, and then ventured further to see the camping spots just up the coast. Some keen fishermen manage to pull their boats up that sand track, but there weren’t any caravans. How they got their boats up that track I’ll never know. From there we took a couple of side turnings to see Zuytdorp Cliffs and the blowholes at Thunder Bay. We got back to Hamelin pool just before sunset, exhausted but happy we made the effort.

On our way to Denham, we stopped at Ocean Park, an Aquarium with a difference. A wonderfully knowledgeable guide gave us a tour of the facility, pointing out different species of fish and numerous local sea creatures. Among others, they hold squid, moray eels, rock cod, snapper, various local tropical fish, several species of rays and an injured 2½ year old loggerhead turtle they were rehabilitating for release back into the ocean. He was very knowledgeable about the inhabitants of all the tanks and pools, and where they can be found in the Shark Bay. All the creatures are endemic to the area, which I thought was a great feature.
Some of the fish were fed as the tour was given, allowing us to see them in action and learn about their habits.

Ocean Park CafeBob the TurtleThe highlight of the Ocean Park is the shark pool. You can see Sandbar, Lemon and Nervous sharks, and they are fed small amounts of fish hourly. This encounter provides great photo opportunities for visitors and is certainly popular. The aquarium is both interesting and entertaining, and even the kids didn’t lose attention for almost the entire time. Unfortunately our visit coincided with a cold and rainy day. I would have loved to sit out on the cafe balcony into Shark Bay to see if I could spot some wildlife. Despite the weather, we really enjoyed this unique aquarium. Another point of interest, it is a very eco friendly attraction, as the park is run using electricity generated from Western Australia’s largest private solar installation. To get more information, you can visit their website at www.allretreats.com.au/oceanpark

We stayed in Denham for a few days, and a well deserved relax. Mike finally had a chance to go charter fishing for a half day with Mac Attack. Read all about his day out on Mike’s Page.

Monkey Mia DolphinCoby gets to feed PuckFrom Denham onto Monkey Mia for a night, which was all we could book at the last minute as it was so busy. We got there early the first day, giving us two opportunities to see the dolphins, which usually come in for a visit first thing in the morning. We weren’t disappointed, as that first day they came in for all three of the allowed feeds. Years ago, anyone could turn up at anytime, and feed the dolphins as much as they wanted. After a decade or two of this uncontrolled dolphin love, they realised all the calves of the dolphins were dying. As the mothers were being fed all day in the shallows, they failed to go into deeper water to feed their babies, who became weak and susceptible to shark attack. These days it is very limited and well managed, which means only a lucky few actually get to feed a dolphin. Our patience paid off. At the third feed, most of the crowds had disappeared. Seven dolphins turned up, including 4 that were in the feeding program. Mike got chosen to feed one, but of course gave up his chance for Coby. The following morning, Rhys got a chance so the kids were both over the moon about their wild dolphin experience. I was happy too because, while swimming just off the beach a bit, a loggerhead turtle decided to swim by me just a few meters away.

Happily we got to see three of Shark Bays Big 5, only missing out on dugongs and sharks in the wild. But perhaps we will get the opportunity to tick them off our list as we head further up the Coral Coast. The marine sanctuaries of Ningaloo are ahead, and I for one can hardly wait.

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