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Shark Bay, Western Australia, Denham Hamelin Rd, Denham, WA, Australia

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List World Heritage List
Class Natural
Legal Status Declared property (13/12/1991)
Place ID 105020
Place File No 5/14/193/0013
Statement of Significance
Shark Bay is located on the most western point of the coast of Australia and covers an area of 2.3 million hectares. The region is one of the few properties inscribed on the World Heritage List for all four outstanding natural universal values:
  • as an outstanding example representing the major stages in the earth's evolutionary history;
  • as an outstanding example representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes;
  • as an example of superlative natural phenomena; and
  • containing important and significant habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity.
The Shark Bay region represents a meeting point of three major climatic regions and forms a transition zone between two major botanical provinces-the South West and Eremaean provinces.
The number of species that reach the end of their range is a major feature of the region's flora. Twenty-five per cent of vascular plants (283 species) are at the limits of their range in Shark Bay. Many vegetation formations and plant species are found only in the interzone area.
The area south of Freycinet Estuary contains the unique type of vegetation known as tree heath. There are also at least 51 species endemic to the region and others that are considered new to science.
The Shark Bay region is an area of major zoological importance, primarily due to habitats on peninsulas and islands being isolated from the disturbance that has occurred elsewhere. Of the 26 species of endangered Australian mammals, five are found on Bernier and Dorre Islands. These are the boodie or burrowing bettong, rufous hare wallaby, banded hare wallaby, the Shark Bay mouse and the western barred bandicoot.
The Shark Bay region has a rich avifauna with over 230 species, or 35 per cent, of Australia's bird species having been recorded. A number of birds attain their northern limit here, such as the regent parrot, western yellow robin, blue-breasted fairy wren and striated pardalote.
The region is also noted for the diversity of its amphibians and reptiles, supporting nearly 100 species. Again, many species are at the northern or southern limit of their range. The area is also significant for the variety of burrowing species, such as the sandhill frog, which, apparently, needs no surface water. Shark Bay contains three endemic sand swimming skinks, and 10 of the 30 dragon lizard species found in Australia.
The 12 species of seagrass in Shark Bay make it one of the most diverse seagrass assemblages in the world. Seagrass covers over 4 000 square kilometres of the bay, with the 1 030 square kilometre Wooramel Seagrass Bank being the largest structure of its type in the world.
Seagrass has contributed significantly to the evolution of Shark Bay as it has modified the physical, chemical and biological environment as well as the geology and has led to the development of major marine features, such as Faure Sill.
The barrier banks associated with the growth of seagrass over the last 5 000 years has, with low rainfall, high evaporation and low tidal flushing, produced the hypersaline Hamelin Pool and Lharidon Bight. This hypersaline condition is conducive to the growth of cyanobacteria which trap and bind sediment to produce a variety of mats and structures including stromatolites.
Stromatolites represent the oldest form of life on earth. They are representative of life-forms some 3 500 million years ago. Hamelin Pool contains the most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolite forms in the world.
Shark Bay is renowned for its marine fauna. The population of about 10 000 dugong, for example, is one of the largest in the world, and dolphins abound, particularly at Monkey Mia.
Humpback whales use the Bay as a staging post in their migration along the coast. This species was reduced by past exploitation from an estimated population of 20 000 on the west coast to 500-800 whales in 1962; the population is now estimated at 2 000-3 000.
Green and loggerhead turtles are found in Shark Bay near their southern limits, nesting on the beaches of Dirk Hartog Island and Peron Peninsula. Dirk Hartog Island is the most important nesting site for loggerhead turtles in Western Australia.
Shark Bay is also an important nursery ground for larval stages of crustaceans, fishes and medusae.
Official Values
Criterion (IX) Outstanding examples of on-going evolution
Shark Bay provides outstanding examples of processes of biological and geomorphic evolution, including the evolution of the Bay's hydrologic system, the hypersaline environment of Hamelin Pool and biological processes of ongoing speciation, succession and the creation of refugia. The World Heritage values include:
  • steep salinity gradients due to development of banks and sills in the Bay (e.g. Faure Sill);
  • three zones caused by differing salinity levels - oceanic, metahaline and hypersaline (e.g. Hamelin Pool);
  • development of a landlocked marine basin forming a reversed estuary containing hypersaline waters;
  • vast, rare and scientifically important deposits of organic shells (Fragum erugatum), coquina, ooid shoals, lithified sediments, broad supratidal flats with evolution of subsurface evaporitic deposits and meromictic blue ponds;
  • modification of physical environment (e.g. build up of banks and sills, and water currents, caused by vast seagrass beds);
  • carbonate deposits and sediments (e.g. Wooramel Seagrass Bank);
  • Holocene deposits adjacent to Hamelin Pool and L'haridon Bight; and
  • evidence of ooid formation, submarine lithification and micritisation (e.g. Hamelin Pool).
  • three distinct biotic zones caused by salinity gradients;
  • restricted communities of marine organisms that have developed physiological adaptations to tolerate hypersaline conditions including bivalve Fragum erugatum, zooplankton;
  • great genetic variability in marine species (e.g. pink snapper, venerid clams);
  • stromatolites, benthic microbial communities;
  • high species diversity and density of bivalves;
  • seagrass-based ecosystems, including nutrient cycling, food chain, nursery grounds, variety of habitats and creation of steady-state hydrological conditions;
  • one of the most extensive seagrass meadows in the world;
  • highly species-rich assemblage of seagrasses;
  • physical structure of Wooramel Seagrass Bank;
  • isolation of fauna habitats on islands and peninsulas, and evolutionary processes illustrated in fauna such as Rufous Hare Wallaby and Banded Hare Wallaby;
  • isolated populations of Australian mammals demonstrating evolutionary processes;
  • transition zone between major marine ecological provinces including the northern limit of a transition region between temperate and tropical marine fauna, with resulting high species diversity (e.g. 323 fish spp; 218 bivalve spp; 80 coral spp currently identified);
  • transition zone between the Southwestern Botanical province dominated by Eucalyptus species and the Eremean Province dominated by Acacia species and including:
  • 145 known plant species at their northern limit in Shark Bay;
  • 39 known plant species at their southern limit in Shark Bay:
  • 28 known endemic vascular plant species: and
  • vegetation of the southern Nanga and Tamala areas (contains the most pronounced overlap between botanical provinces);
  • the northern end of range for numerous southern faunal species , including known species of herpetofauna (e.g. frogs, lizards, skinks, snakes); and avifauna;
  • coastal end of range for arid-interior species, including numerous known species of herpetofauna (e.g. frogs, geckos, skinks, monitors);
  • examples of 'gigantism' in flora (e.g. tree heath vegetation south of the Freycinet Estuary); and
  • a notable diversity of plant and animal species (which includes an estimated 35% of Australia's total bird species).
Criterion (VII) Contains superlative natural phenomena
Shark Bay contains unique, rare and superlative natural phenomena and formations and features of exceptional natural beauty. The World Heritage values include:
  • stromatolites which represent one of the oldest forms of life on Earth;
  • Hamelin Pool which is the only place in the world with a range of stromatolite forms comparable to fossils in ancient rocks;
  • Wooramel Bank which forms part of one of the few marine areas of the world dominated by carbonates and is also the one of the most extensive seagrass meadows in the world;
  • the diversity of landscapes formed by aridity, peninsulas, islands and bays;
  • the exceptional coastal scenery at Zuytdorp Cliffs, Dirk Hartog Island, Peron Peninsula, Heirisson and Bellefin Prongs;
  • wide sweeping beaches of shells at L'haridon Bight;
  • great natural beauty of inundated birridas such as Big Lagoon;
  • strongly contrasting colours of dunes and cliffs of Peron Peninsula;
  • abundance of marine fauna including dugong, dolphins, sharks, rays, turtles and fish; and
  • extensive annual wildflower displays associated with the richness of flora.
Criterion (VIII) Outstanding examples of stages of earth's history
Shark Bay contains, in one place, the most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolitic microbialites in the world which are analogous to structures that were the dominant benthic ecosystems on Earth for 3,000 million years. The World Heritage values include:
  • diverse and abundant examples of Stromatolites/Microbial mats; and
  • Hamelin Pool and L'haridon Bight environment.
Criterion (X) Important habitats for conservation of biological diversity
Shark Bay contains important and significant natural habitats where species of plants and animals of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation still survive. The World Heritage values include:
  • habitats for species of conservation significance;
  • species of conservation significance including:
  • plants (including at least 28 endemic vascular plant species, 11 of which occur on Tamala Sandplain and coastal zone), new species and expanded ranges for known species.
  • terrestrial animals (including the only populations or major populations of Burrowing Bettong -Bettongia lesueur, Rufous Hare-Wallaby -Lagorchestes hirsutus, Banded Hare-Wallaby - Lagostrophus fasciatus; Shark Bay Mouse - Pseudomys praeconis; and Western Barred Bandicoot - Perameles bougainville);
  • marine animals (including Dugong -Dugong dugon, representing an estimated one eighth of the world's population of this taxon, Humpback Whale - Megaptera novaeangliae, Green Turtle - Chelonia mydas and Loggerhead Turtle - Caretta caretta;
  • reptiles (including 9 known endemic species); and
  • birds (including Thick-billed Grasswren - Amytornis textilis).
Shark Bay is a large, shallow bay with associated peninsulas and islands on the coast of WA. The place, which has a total area of 22,000sqkm, includes the marine and estuarine areas of the bay, together with the peninsulas and islands projecting into it and adjacent areas of the mainland including the coastal strip along the eastern coast and the region immediately to the south. Shark Bay is part of the Carnarvon Basin which includes predominantly Cretaceous and Tertiary sandstones and limestones, overlain in parts by siliceous dune systems. There are Quaternary deposits of sediments from the Gascoyne and Worramel Rivers in coastal areas between Carnarvon and Yaringa. Sediments in the bay itself are almost exclusively the result of biological, chemical and physical processes operating within the bay rather than from deposition of land derived sediments. A large beach ridge shell deposit is located in the vicinity of Hamelin Pool and Lharidon Bight. The Faure Sill, a sedimentary bank formed across the entrance of Hamelin Pool, is derived from sediment accretions in seagrass meadows and is of relatively recent origin (approximately 4,000 years bp). The Zuytdorp Cliffs in the west are associated with a Quaternary fault line. Gypsum filled hollows (birridas) formed during times of higher groundwater tables occur throughout the region. Shark Bay consists of a series of north-south trending peninsulas and islands which separate inlets and bays from each other and the Indian Ocean. The place comprises three distinct landscape types: the Gascoyne-Wooramel Province, a low lying plain backed by a limestone escarpment, forms a coastal strip to the east of the bay; Peron Province, which comprises undulating sandy plains interspersed with gypsum pans and terminating seaward in a scarp to 30m height, includes Nanga and Peron Peninsulas and Faure Island; Edel Province is a landscape of elongate north trending dunes terminating in steep cliffs to the west and including Edel Land Peninsula and Dirk Hartog, Bernier and Dorre Islands. The internal coastline (1,500km) of the bay includes a diversity of landscape features ranging from ocean cliffs to rocky platforms to shallow bays and sandy beaches. The terrestrial landscape includes low rolling hills interspersed with gypsum filled pans. The marine areas comprise a large, shallow embayment of about 13,000sqkm, with an average depth of 9m. The bay is enclosed by Bernier, Dorre and Dirk Hartog Islands to the west and includes a series of gulfs, narrow inlets and basins which project into the bay in a north-westerly direction. Seawater influx to the bay occurs principally via channels between the islands, resulting in a restricted circulation. Inflow of freshwater into the bay from the Wooramel and Gascoyne Rivers is intermittent and runoff influx is small. The semi-arid climate of the area, the low runoff and the semi-enclosed nature of inlets and gulfs of the bay result in restricted tidal flushing and increased salinities, particularly in the northern and western parts of the bay. More extreme hypersaline conditions typically occur in the southern parts associated with Lharidon Bight and Hamelin Pool where the Faure Sill prevents outflow of denser saline waters produced by evaporation. Salinity gradients in the bay range from sea water (35 to 40 parts per thousand) in the northern and western parts of the bay to metahaline (40 to 56 parts per thousand), to hypersaline (56 to 70 parts per thousand) in the Hamelin Pool and Lharidon Bight. The salinity gradient has created three biotic zones that have a marked effect on the distribution of the marine organisms in the bay. Shark Bay includes a large range of vegetation types and species associated with the diversity of environments and habitats which occur in the place. The terrestrial vegetation of the place typically includes low shrublands, herb fields and grasslands. The South West Botanical Province has vegetation rich in eucalyptus species, forming forests and woodlands with diverse, shrubby understoreys and heathlands, but with few grasses. In contrast, the Eremaean Province is rich in acacia species but has large areas of grassland, particularly dominated by hummock grasses belonging to the genera triodia and pelectrachne. The transition from one botanical province to the other is near the Denham Road, crossing the road near the southern end of the Peron Peninsula. The main part of the South West Botanical Province is at its northern limit on an area of red sandplain on Nanga Station. The sandplain has a complex of vegetation types dominated by low trees and tall shrubs of the genera EUCALYPTUS, LAMARCHEA, CALOTHAMNUS, GREVILLEA and EREMAEA and with understoreys of HAKEA, CALYTRIX, BAECKEA, SCHOLTZIA, GREVILLEA, PITYRODIA and MELALEUCA species. This vegetation complex is the most species rich in the place and includes many species at their northern limit of distribution and many endemic species. The rest of the Peron Peninsula has two Eremaean vegetation types, one characterised by the endemic Hummock Grass, TRIODIA plurinervaia and the other by a tall wattle species, ACACIA RAMULOSA, which occurs in association with other wattles, especially A SCLEROSPERMA and A. TETRAGONOPHYLLA. Other vegetation on Peron Peninsula includes heaths and shrublands on recent coastal dunes and halophytic vegetation on coastal flats and small salt lakes (birridas). Two vegetation types dominate the area from Tamal Homestead to the coast and along Edel Land, including a vegetation type largely on calcareous soils and dominated by atriplex species and another type on dunes and dune swales dominated by melaleuca and acacia species. Specialised vegetation types on the mainland include the limestone cliff vegetation on the west coast of Edel Land which is subject to salt spray and areas of mangroves on protected bay coasts. (Also see individual listings for the following registered places: Peron Nanga Area; Edel Land; Bernier and Dorre Islands; Small Islands, Shark Bay; Dirk Hartog Island; Denham Sound, Freycinet Reach and Estuary, Hopeless Reach and Lharidon Bight, Shark Bay; Wooramel Seagrass Bank; and Hamelin Pool and Faure Sill
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity Not Available
About 2,197,300ha, surrounding Denham, comprising the Shark Bay World Heritage Area as defined in Appendix 4 of the Agreement between the State of Western Australia and the Commonwealth of Australia on Administrative Arrangements for the Shark Bay World Heritage Property, signed on 12 September 1997.
Figgis, P. and Mosley, G. (1988) Australia's Wilderness Heritage  Weldon Publishing, Sydney.
Western Australia. Department of Conservation and Land Management 1(1989) Shark Bay    Como, WADCLM
Trugden, M. (1995) Flora of Shark Bay World Heritage Area and its Environs Como, WADCLM.

Report Produced  Fri Apr 18 21:10:08 2014