December 3, 2021

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Photo: Jason Dickie, Oceanwise Australia


WESTERN AUSTRALIA (December 3rd, 2021)

Beginning with his work in the Ningaloo Reef in 1998, Dr. Ben Fitzpatrick of Oceanwise Australia has contributed to research, management, and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems for more than two decades. As the Champion of the Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area Hope Spot established in 2019, he and his team have helped shift the local momentum from industrialization to protection for Exmouth Gulf and the surrounding area.

Today the Government of Western Australia has announced a commitment to implement a spatial management plan for a new Marine Park in the area in congruence with the Plan for Our Parks policy. According to the official government release, “A new marine park will be established for the eastern and southern parts of the [Exmouth] Gulf, and Class A reserves will be gazetted for local areas of significance such as Qualing Pool, Camerons Cave and the Gulf’s islands.”

 

(c) Oceanwise Australia

 

Dr. Fitzpatrick says, “Congratulations to the Western Australia (WA) community and Government for taking this important first step in protecting this globally unique ecosystem.” He elaborates, “This newly-protected area exists in a particularly important bioregion for conservation that has been poorly represented in marine parks to date, and has sustained an incredible amount of industrialization in the last two decades. Creating a representative marine park containing the arid mangrove forests, humpback whales, dugongs, turtles, sea snakes, seabirds, mantas, sharks and rays, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and echinoderms unique to this part of the world is vital to conservation.”

 

Green Turtle (c) Ben Fitzpatrick

The marine wildlife in Exmouth Gulf underpins a successful and sustainable ecotourism industry that contributes more to the local economy than any other industry. When travelers and locals alike come to explore, they view the area through a lens of conservation. 

“This is a good first step in providing some certainty to the town’s major driver; sustainable nature-based tourism. However, what remains to be decided are the extent of protected areas and the appropriateness of developments such as ports and mines.”
 
 
(c) Andre Rerekura
 

The Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area was recognized as a Hope Spot in August 2019 in honor of its wilderness value, socio-economic significance and vulnerable status. Dr. Fitzpatrick had recently published Oceanwise Australia’s 2019 report. Upon its publication, proponents of a major oil and gas industrial development withdrew their application. From the organization’s presentations to the EPA and the broader WA community, the Environment Minister adopted their first recommendation to conduct a cumulative impact study. Their conclusions from this work mirrored Oceanwise Australia’s: to locate industrialization elsewhere, to increase protection, management and research.

 

(c) Jason Dickie, Oceanwise Australia

 

Dr. Sylvia Earle has described the Exmouth Gulf and Ningaloo Coast, “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?”

 

(c) 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 they continue to use science to illuminate the region’s globally unique biodiversity. From these beginnings, they have increasingly contributed their expertise to assist non-profit organizations in developing science-based conservation solutions in Australia and abroad.

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