Ningaloo Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve
Ningaloo Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve (formerly Ningaloo Marine Park) is also very impressive. One of the worlds largest fringe reefs, it is Australian’s second largest reef and is just slightly smaller than the Belize Barrier Reef system.
A fringe reef differs from a Barrier reef in its location and function. A barrier reef is the closest reefs to the open ocean and the continental shelves. They generally are located off shore and provide a large area behind them referred to as a lagoon.
The lagoon often as deep as a 30 meters or more helps calms the ocean water before it reaches shallow water and the shore lines. A fringe reef on the other hand is closely related to land. Then develop close to continental islands and to the mainlands.
Many times a fringe reef is within fifty meters of the shore. In places along the Ningaloo reef the fringe reef are as close to the shore as the low water mark. Like the Great Barrier Reef, The Ningaloo Reef is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Ningaloo centre composes both a marine and land portion.
The Marine portion is cited with having the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world between 300 to 500 each year.
It is also the breeding grounds for Humpback Whales and Dwarf Minke Whales. The shore line portion of the site has an estimated 10,000 marine turtle nest each year, most from endangered species.
There are 25 new species of Echinoderms (the family that includes star fish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers among others) that are so far only found on this reef, over 700 species of reef fish and 155 types of sponges.
The reef system can be found start at about 1,200 km north of the city of Perth.
Reaching the city Carnarvon and continuing on north to Red Bluff will bring you to the southern edge of the reef. Continuing along the west coast about 300 km will bring you to the Exmouth Gulf and the Bundegi Reef, the last reef in the north Ningaloo Reef.
Most of the diver operators, both day boats and Liveaboards operate out of Exmouth or Coral Bay. Coral bay is located about 150 km south of Exmouth. The diving in the area is outstanding ranked among the best in the world.
With such a large area to it is difficult to point out dive sites that are the best since so many meet that viewpoint.
However, in Exmouth on the Navy base is a dive that often makes the top of the list for the best shore dive in the world and also generally considered the best pier dive in the world.
Called the Navy pier, it diving is restricted to bookings by a dive operator who has a contract to administer the diving.
The best way to describe it is by saying it concentrates all the best of the Ningaloo Reef into one small area. The bio diversity is extremely high and unspoiled.
Shore diving is a topic that can be confusing to the visitor diver.
Being a fringe reef, the reef structure is close to shore generally no more than 200 meters. In many places the reef reaches the low water mark.
You will find statements online that shore diving is illegal in the Ningaloo Commonwealth Marine Reserve.
The clear answer is maybe. Shore diving from the islands in the park are prohibited except in some of the larger islands. Most of the islands are designated island preserves and are off limits to people, so clearly no shore diving. From the mainland shore it is best to ask a local park ranger, (not a dive operator).
The park has different zones and each zone has a list of activities permitted. Many of these include scuba diving. There are a number of places that snorkeling is permitted but scuba is not for example Oyster stacks beach.
These are areas where the reef is less than two meters from the surface for an extended range. These areas are not really suitable for diving.
Marine Life Encounters
Ningaloo reef has the largest number of Whale sharks in one location of anywhere on earth, during the breeding season. You can also count on seasonal visits by Minke whales and humpback whales.
Manta rays are also found all along the coast along with seven species of marine turtles. While many tour operators have guided swim tours with these massive creatures it is not uncommon to be approached by one or more while diving on scuba.
Daily boats are easy to located in both of these areas.
There are a few Liveaboards that also operate out of those two towns.