Sorry for the long delay between posts. I’ve been away on placement and on holiday.
Over the last year I have been on many little trips around my home state of Western Australia. The reason why my holidays have been confined is obvious. One of the places I’ve been that I would like to write a little about is the North West Cape. More well known for the town inside named Exmouth, and even more well known for the glorious reef that runs along the Indian Ocean beside it, the Ningaloo Reef. Ningaloo means “towards deep water” in Wajarri which is spoken by the Baiyungu and Yiniguduru clans local to the area for more than 30 000 years. Yes, you read that right. The oldest piece of jewellery in the entire world is a necklace made of sea shells found near Mandu Mandu creek in the region. It is 26 000 years old and can be seen in the Boola Bardip Museum (I definitely need to go back to try find it). Human fascination with the ocean in this area is older than civilisation itself and when you see it you understand why.
I have never in my life seen such beauty in the ocean, even in my favourite Attenborough documentaries. The sheer quantity and variety of fish, turtles, sharks, molluscs, coral, and whales in the waters off the coast is really unlike anything I’ve seen or read about. Moreover, many of the most spectacular snorkelling spots are less than five metres off the beach! To see some of the larger creatures the reef is famous for you’ll have to get a boat and venture past the reef. But trust me, whatever amount they ask you for it’s worth it. The affectionately named “Big Three” are whale sharks, humpback whales and mantarays. I was there in July which is the tail end of the whale shark season and the middle of the humpback mating season. Seeing a whale shark in person is just extraordinary. They are enormous and placid creatures covered in mesmerising blue and white patterns. It’s very easy to get stunned and forgot to swim alongside them as I found out for myself. Humpbacks, a once critically endangered animal now thrives in the area. They migrate up to tropical waters in the middle of the year to mate and nurse their calves. We must have seen nearly a hundred of these beautiful creatures over the week we were there. Something I won’t forget anytime soon was watching two humpbacks dance with each other, poking their bodies out of the water in a rhythmic duet in front of the sunset. Something else I highly recommend doing is the Navy Pier Scuba Dive. On the tip of the Cape is the Harold Holt Navy Communications Base, which is a huge radio communications facility with a big pier on the end that is rarely used. Obviously no ships are allowed to come anywhere near the base and so a plethora of sea creatures have taken up accommodation below the pier. Lion fish, nurse sharks, reef sharks, sea snakes, coral trout, giant gropers, nudibranchs and so many other fish I wouldn’t have the first clue about live there. You can even do it without PADI, but it costs a fair bit more.
The local government and community have done an amazing job of keeping the region relatively untouched and uncrowded. For instance, only 15 licenses have been given out for whale shark experiences, with no more on the cards. Only a single company is licensed to do the Navy Pier Dive ensuring the ecosystem there remains undisturbed. The majority of the marine park is a sanctuary meaning no fishing is allowed in those areas. And of course the constant plans to build an oil pipeline, resort or any other manmade and industrial area on the reef is always met with fierce community backlash. Protect Ningaloo aims to structure this dissent as a political tool to help protect reef and its occupants, big and small. All these measures end up making Ningaloo a site of immense beauty and wildness. Seeing these lovely animals just do their own thing, where they are supposed to be and not in some giant fish tank is awesome and worth protecting.