A spot of hope for Exmouth Gulf

Mangroves and sand flats in Exmouth Gulf. Photo: Ben Fitzpatrick.

Wild, raw and rugged. This is how Dr Ben Fitzpatrick of Oceanwise Australia described the natural wonder of the Exmouth Gulf.  

The unallocated crown land is unique in its boast of biodiversity. It is a nursery for whales and their calves, rays, hosts one of the world’s most stable population of dugongs, is a migratory location for sea birds, a sanctuary for turtles, sharks, endangered sea snakes and more than 850 fish species.

It contains undisturbed arid zone mangroves, seagrass beds, mud and sand flats, coral reefs and threatened samphire wetlands, all which connect with the fauna to form a pristine ecosystem.

It is for these reasons, and so many more, that Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Reef have been recognised by Mission Blue and valued as a Hope Spot.  

A humpback whale and her calf. Photo: Howard Chen.

Founded by Dr Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is a non-profit organisation from America that promotes public awareness and action to protect oceanic areas. These areas are called Hope Spots because they encourage hope to the public that the area needs to be protected by threatening dangers.

The coast of Ningaloo has been World Heritage-listed, however Exmouth Gulf has not, despite its abundance of flora, fauna and the social importance from recreational fishing and ecotourism.  

Dr Fitzpatrick and his Oceanwise team recently released a report detailing their findings of Exmouth Gulf and the ecological value the area has to supporting immense marine flora and fauna and the hope of marine conservation.

“Part of the world’s most stable populations of dugongs is in Exmouth Gulf and they feed on seagrass in there, and there’s quite an extensive mangrove ecosystem which is unique as well. There is a lot of diverse habitats, coral reefs and seagrasses and subterranean waterways that support a diverse assemblage of flora and fauna,” he said.

Dr Ben Fitzpatrick talks about the importance of Exmouth Gulf for marine fauna.

Dr Fitzpatrick hopes by classifying Exmouth Gulf as a Hope Spot, the unique area will be kept untouched by threatening industrialisation and it will finally be classified as a World Heritage Area.

“To retain that beauty and to invigorate the opportunities for doing something that will ensure sustainable use of that natural beauty and that wonder, and not jeopardise it.”  

Soldier crabs on the march. Photo: Andrew Davenport.

Research Assistant and Science Ambassador Blanche D’Anastasi from James Cook University specialises in the study of seasnakes and she describes Mission Blue Hope spots as areas that give us hope for the future.

“They are places that hold biodiversity found nowhere else in the world and really special places that can help oceans sustain future challenges,” she said.

Blanche D’Anastasi, PhD, explains why Exmouth Gulf being valued as a Hope Spot is important.

Exmouth Gulf is under constant review for industrialisation because of its easy access to the ocean, and its latest threat comes from oil and gas company, Subsea 7.

Campaigns from groups like Protect Ningaloo are fighting against the exploitation of Exmouth’s value by Subsea 7, who plan on building a pipeline out from Exmouth that will drag pipes across the sea floor to waiting oil ships.

By recognising Exmouth as a Hope Spot brings the attention the area needs in identifying how diverse the area is and those affected by the threat of industrialisation.

Blanche D’Anastasi wants Exmouth to be protected from heavy industry.

“Seeing it nominated as a Mission Blue Hope Spot brings much needed attention to just how amazing this place is,” Ms D’Anastasi said.

A Leopard shark getting up close for a photo. Photo: Ben Fitzpatrick.
Dr Ben Fitzpatrick wants to build hope for the region.