SALISBURY ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, (July 8th, 2019)
Thirty nautical miles off Western Australia’s southern coast lies Salisbury Island, a remote landmass of limestone and granite that has long held secrets of Australia’s past: the continent’s geological history, archaeological heritage and the mysterious life of the white shark, a sea creature that has captivated mankind for millennia.
The waters surrounding Salisbury Island have recently been named a haven for white sharks thanks to the unique biodiversity of the area. What sets this shark haven apart from many others around the world is the fact that Salisbury Island has been left virtually untouched by humans. Conservationists with organization Finding Salisbury, Inc. are seeking official government protection to maintain the area’s stable condition with a comprehensive no-take state marine reserve and a “virtual tourism” program to allow the public virtual access while keeping the area wild.
Mission Blue has declared Salisbury Island a Hope Spot in recognition of the island’s magnificently preserved ecosystem, the historical importance of Australia’s ancient human history, and of Finding Salisbury’s commitment to non-invasive research and their aim to implement virtual ecotourism to promote non-invasive public access to this significant place.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue states, “Salisbury Island’s healthy marine ecosystem and white shark population is a tremendous cause for hope. It’s important that we work to leave it untouched, and I applaud our Champions’ mission to expand the surrounding marine protected area and encourage virtual tourism in this Hope Spot.”
Shelley Payne, Hope Spot Champion, environmental consultant and Co-Founder of Finding Salisbury elaborates, “Our approach of world-leading, non-invasive research at Salisbury Island will help keep this wild place wild. Our goal is to learn about this remote ecosystem through observation and promote virtual tourism here rather than physical tourism to minimize the human impact on this sensitive location.”
Australia’s relationship with white sharks has struggled with shark attacks influencing the public’s perception of the species. In the coastal town of Esperance, Western Australia, there have been two shark attacks over the last four years– one being fatal. Finding Salisbury works closely with the Esperance Ocean Safety and Support Group, an organization that educates beach-goers in Esperance with a partnership to develop community support— thanks to the public’s desire to better understand sharks and their behavior.
Payne explains, “There are a number of places in the world where scientists frequent to observe and conduct research on white sharks. Most of these places have had a high level of human activity. Salisbury Island is unique as it is remote, and has had very little human interference. If we take time to consider how we approach this location with regards to our activities here and their impact, we have a great opportunity to learn about the natural behavior of these animals. It is our view that it would be beneficial to keep this area free of invasive anthropogenic activity, as is the aim of some marine sanctuary zones. It is also important to consider that the Australian public understandably have a high level of concern about shark attacks and their cause, and therefore it would be prudent to ensure that what we do at this location has no long-term effects on shark behavior.”
Salisbury Island is home to several species that thrive there, including an isolated population of endangered black-flanked rock wallaby, the only extant population on the south coast. The shoreline hosts what is likely the largest long-nosed fur seal colony in Western Australia. The island is also home to the vulnerable Australian Sea Lion, whose numbers are declining. They are the most endangered pinniped in the world, with only about 10,000 animals remaining. Finding Salisbury has recently witnessed the presence of the vulnerable grey nurse shark outside its current documented distribution zone, as well as a juvenile great white shark. Little is known about the life cycle of the white shark, but Finding Salisbury hopes that with further non-invasive research, scientists will have the opportunity to unlock the elusive species’ long-held secrets to both better understand their life cycles and behavior, and protect them against human threats.
Salisbury Island lies within the new Eastern Recherche Marine Park. However, the state waters surrounding the island for three nautical miles are not part of this marine reserve, and one of Finding Salisbury’s strategic goals is to get these state waters included under a conservation reserve.
Finding Salisbury also works closely with the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, with a respected Traditional Owner serving as a board member. Finding Salisbury has been involved in a number of preliminary archaeological expeditions to the island to unlock the secrets of its remote location. The island was once attached to mainland Australia and was likely one of the first islands to be separated more than 10,000 years ago after the last ice age. The archaeological research is focused on uncovering history from the more than 50,000 years of indigenous occupation of Australia and is focused both above and below the waterline.
Traditional Owner Ronald “Doc” Reynolds has worked closely with the group since its inception. “To stand on Salisbury Island representing my culture was very emotional for me,” says Doc. “Where an ancient culture once lived, an ancient creature now roams”.
Finding Salisbury, Inc.’s non-invasive approach to research, including their push for observational research through live-feed camera systems rather than human visitation, is aimed at raising awareness of human impacts of research and tourism on remote locations. Payne and her team hope to drive positive change in the way shark research is carried out; to ensure consideration of the human impact research may have on sharks and their behavior. They also seek to challenge researchers to think “outside the box” in terms of what information they want and how they can obtain it with minimal impact on the animals. Official protection of Salisbury Island would allow for the area to maintain its stable ecosystem without sustaining the bruises of human touch – preserving it for many millennia more as a pocket of hope for Australia’s marine life and that of the entire planet.
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About Finding Salisbury, Inc.
Finding Salisbury Inc is a non-profit, collaborative research organization working with researchers, the community and traditional owners to drive world leading non-invasive research and ensure the protection of this remote wild place and white shark hotspot.
Marc Payne, a veteran abalone diver, discovered the unique location after decades of diving off the remote south coast of Western Australia. After concerns over unregulated activity targeting the white sharks at Salisbury Island, Finding Salisbury was formed.