August 14, 2019

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EXMOUTH, AUSTRALIA (August 15th, 2019) – – Western Australia’s Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area is a spectacular wilderness supporting nearly 2,000 species of fauna. Tourists trek there from all corners of the globe to snorkel the fringing coral reef, to witness one of the world’s most important humpback whale refuges, swim with the world’s largest fish the Whale shark, get a glimpse of dugong that are part of the last stable populations on Earth and many other creatures including manta rays, turtles and rare dolphins. It is also an internationally recognized wilderness ecotourism destination with the uninterrupted natural vistas free of industrial activities. Lesser known is that Exmouth Gulf supports an extensive intact arid-zone estuary containing vast tracts of mangroves and an incredible diversity of marine wildlife revealed in a new
science review led by Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick, Hope Spot Champion and Director of Oceanwise Australia

 

Mangroves and Sand flats (c) Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick

 

In recognition of its wilderness value, socio-economic significance and its vulnerable status, Exmouth Gulf, along with Ningaloo Reef, has been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue. Despite four decades of science and repeated recommendations for higher protection by various government programs, the area still lacks recognition and protection of these values. The area remains as largely unallocated crown land. The future of these globally significant values remains unprotected and uncertain.

 

Green turtle (c) Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle elaborates, “This area really rocks– looking at the world as a whole, humpback whales have chosen this place as a nursery area, and there’s a mangrove forest that’s really special along the coast. What’s not to love about this place? What can be done to ensure enduring protection as new pressures mount?”

 

 

Dr. Fitzpatrick explains, “Exmouth Gulf is so rich in biodiversity, with more fish species than Ningaloo Reef, at about 850 species; not to mention other charismatic threatened
and endangered species including 63 species of sharks and rays, 8 species of whale and dolphin; it’s even a global hotspot for rare and endangered sea snakes.” Dr. Fitzpatrick goes on to note that it is the marine wildlife in Exmouth Gulf that underpins a successful and sustainable ecotourism industry, contributing more to the local economy than any other industry. Yet we know very little about the habitat critical to sustaining this biodiversity.

The Exmouth Gulf Wilderness and its thriving sustainable ecotourism are under increasing threat from industrialization. There is an initiative to rezone the Western Coast of Exmouth Gulf to industrial land. Several industrial proposals are being put forward, including an oil and gas pipeline manufacturing facility, a deepwater port for the fossil fuel industry and an evaporative salt mining operation. In the face of these threats, Mission Blue is highly supportive of the ongoing efforts by scientists, conservationists and community groups to protect Exmouth Gulf for environmentally sustainable use by future generations.

 

Mangroves (c) Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick

 

Darren Kindleysides, CEO of Australian Marine Conservation Society adds, “Despite its very high conservation values, Exmouth Gulf has disproportionately low conservation protection. As one of the world’s last intact arid-zone estuaries, and a system supporting more than 850 species of fish and elasmobranchs, it supports many species listed as rare, endangered, or vulnerable including sea turtles, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, sawfish, sea snakes and migratory birds”.

Dr. Sylvia Earle adds, “It’s not usual, in fact, it’s the way of the world these days that humans are increasingly encroaching on what remains of natural wild places. There’s a limit to what we can do and still have a planet that works in our favor. This is a treasure worth standing up for and fighting for, and to maintain the integrity of the system that transcends these short-term gains.”

 

(c) Alex Bell

 

About Mission Blue and Hope Spots

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. Hope Spots are special places around the world nominated by members of the public to draw awareness to their unique values that offers “Hope” to the ocean’s future. 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 Oceanwise Australia

Led by Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick, Oceanwise Australia is a specialized environmental sciences organization contributing research, management, conservation and monitoring of marine and coastal ecosystems. Oceanwise was first initiated in 1998 to promote awareness of the marine environment of the Ningaloo Reef. 20 years later we are still at it, using science to illuminate the regions globally unique biodiversity. From these beginnings, we are increasingly contributing our expertise to assist non-profit organizations in developing science-based conservation solutions in Australia and abroad.

About the scientific report on Exmouth Gulf

The report titled “Exmouth Gulf, North-Western Australia: A review of environmental and economic values and baseline scientific survey of the south western region” is a collaboration of Oceanwise Australia, UWA’s Oceans Institute, James Cook University, Curtin University and Sharks and Rays Australia. The research is endorsed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and can be accessed here: https://www.oceanwise.com.au/subscribe 

Images and Vision
Stock images and footage can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ANyR-GlG0zH3em7-dy4dmBt3SRAPOgsL

 

Octopus (c) Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick

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