World Heritage Places - The Ningaloo Coast - World Heritage Values

Western Australia

World Heritage values

World Heritage Committee information for The Ningaloo Coast

The World Heritage Committee has inscribed the Ningaloo Coast under criteria (vii) and (x) under the UNESCO Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The inscription recognises the outstanding universal values of the Ningaloo Coast, which are described in further detail below.

Criterion (vii) relates to containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

Criterion (x) relates to containing the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Statement of Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Ningaloo Coast is located on Western Australia's remote coast along the East Indian Ocean. The interconnected ocean and arid coast form aesthetically striking landscapes and seascapes. The coastal waters host a major near shore reef system and a directly adjacent limestone karst system and associated habitats and species along an arid coastline. The property holds a high level of terrestrial species endemism and high marine species diversity and abundance. An estimated 300 to 500 whale sharks aggregate annually coinciding with mass coral spawning events and seasonal localized increases in productivity. The marine portion of the nomination contains a high diversity of habitats that includes lagoon, reef, open ocean, the continental slope and the continental shelf. Intertidal systems such as rocky shores, sandy beaches, estuaries, and mangroves are also found within the property. The most dominant marine habitat is the Ningaloo reef, which sustains both tropical and temperate marine fauna and flora, including marine reptiles and mammals.

The main terrestrial feature of the Ningaloo Coast is the extensive karst system and network of underground caves and water courses of the Cape Range. The karst system includes hundreds of separate features such as caves, dolines and subterranean water bodies and supports a rich diversity of highly specialized subterranean species. Above ground, the Cape Range Peninsula belongs to an arid ecoregion recognized for its high levels of species richness and endemism, particularly for birds and reptiles.

Criterion (vii)The landscapes and seascapes of the property are comprised of mostly intact and large-scale marine, coastal and terrestrial environments. The lush and colourful underwater scenery provides a stark and spectacular contrast with the arid and rugged land. The property supports rare and large aggregations of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) along with important aggregations of other fish species and marine mammals. The aggregations in Ningaloo following the mass coral spawning and seasonal nutrient upwelling cause a peak in productivity that leads approximately 300-500 whale sharks to gather, making this the largest documented aggregation in the world.

Criterion (x): In addition to the remarkable aggregations of whale sharks the Ningaloo Reef harbours a high marine diversity of more than 300 documented coral species, over 700 reef fish species, roughly 650 mollusc species, as well as around 600 crustacean species and more than 1,000 species of marine algae. The high numbers of 155 sponge species and 25 new species of echinoderms add to the significance of the area. On the ecotone, between tropical and temperate waters, the Ningaloo Coast hosts an unusual diversity of marine turtle species with an estimated 10,000 nests deposited along the coast annually.

The majority of subterranean species on land, including aquatic species in the flooded caves are rare, taxonomically diverse and not found elsewhere in the southern hemisphere. The combination of relict rainforest fauna and small fully aquatic invertebrates within the same cave system is exceptional. The subterranean fauna of the peninsula is highly diverse and has the highest cave fauna (troglomorphic) diversity in Australia and one of the highest in the world. Above ground, the diversity of reptiles and vascular plants in the drylands is likewise noteworthy.


The property is embedded into a comprehensive legal framework for the various protected areas and all other land. As a National Heritage area, it is subject to the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC) according to which all proposed activities with possible significant impacts on the values of the site require assessments. The EPBC is applicable to activities located outside of the boundaries of the property. While no formal buffer zones have been established for the property, the Act therefore serves as a legal buffer zone. The boundaries encompass the key marine and terrestrial values with the exclusions being small in size and not conflicting with the maintenance of the values if managed adequately.

Both the marine and the terrestrial areas may face a number of threats to the property's integrity. Learmonth Air Weapons Range Facility, located within the property, includes an ancient reef-complex and cave fauna of exceptional importance. It was one of Australia's most active bombing ranges until around 1990 and future bombing activities may pose a threat, in particular for the Bundera sinkhole which is located on Defence Land. Tourism is on the increase leading to associated threats such as damage to vegetation, illegal fishing, sewage and waste disposal and disturbance to wildlife. Comprehensive management programs and an overall tourism development strategy are functioning as well as appropriate responses which require consolidation in anticipation of further increasing visitation. Future concerns include increased water demand leading to water abstraction with potential effects on the groundwater systems as well documented in arid areas with abruptly increasing numbers of visitors.

Fire, historically part of local indigenous management, is a potential threat to the terrestrial vegetation and requires monitoring and control. Livestock raising on pastoral leases continues to be an important land use which is compatible with nature conservation when managed appropriately.

Potential off-shore hydrocarbon extraction in the region surrounding the property requires careful consideration in order to prevent potential pollution and disturbance. The coastline's significant length and remoteness poses major challenges to responses to pollution incidents suggesting a need for further investments in emergency response.

Sea level rise and increases in seawater temperatures associated with climate change have had comparatively little effect on the property. The good overall integrity suggests a higher resilience that in disturbed systems under additional stress. Still, careful monitoring is highly recommended.

A concern affecting both marine and terrestrial parts of the property and requiring permanent monitoring and management are invasive alien species, most importantly foxes, cats, goats and weeds on land and some marine species.

Protection and management requirements

The Ningaloo Coast benefits from its remoteness and low population density affording it a high degree of natural protection. The entire, mostly state-owned property is comprehensively protected and managed, including by an overarching strategic management framework. Given the various governmental levels and agencies involved and the differentiation between terrestrial and marine parts of the property, effective coordination of the multiple plans in an overall management framework is critical. Full cooperation between agencies, including fisheries, are necessary to ensure management and law enforcement in the vast and remote marine and terrestrial areas. Funding from federal and state levels and staffing as of the time of inscription would benefit from increases.

There is a need for ongoing management of fisheries and careful planning of resource extraction and corresponding monitoring and disaster preparedness to protect the values of the property.

Communication, consultation and joint efforts with local and indigenous stakeholders, including negotiation of native title claims and pastoral leases, are indispensable elements of effective management and local acceptance of conservation efforts. Given the vastness of the area and the limited human and financial resources, co-management approaches with local stakeholders are a promising option. The establishment of a "Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Advisory Committee" or a similar body bringing together representatives from the traditional owners, local government, scientific experts and members of the community, has an important role to play in this regard.

Tourist numbers are expected to rise which will require additional management efforts. Increased water abstraction, including from demand from increased tourism, may affect fragile subterranean aquatic habitats and species communities will require constant monitoring and management.