Shark Bay has become one of Western Australia's most popular travel
destinations, but there are no resorts or man-made attractions here.
That's because Shark Bay is all about coming face to face with nature
and encountering flora and fauna in an unspoilt natural wilderness
Shark Bay is a World Heritage Area that covers more than 2.2 million
hectares and has a coastline more than 1,500 km long. The westernmost
part of Australia, it features landscapes and seascapes both colourful
and diverse, from red and white sands and turquoise lagoons to plunging
cliffs and soaring dunes.
Shark Bay, thus named by British navigator William Dampier in August
1688, is Western Australia's first world heritage listed area and one
of only 16 Australia wide that fit all four selection criteria. Located
on the west coast of Australia between the towns of Geraldton and
Carnarvon, Shark Bay is Australia's largest marine embayment, with more
than 1,500 kilometres of meandering coastline.
A vast shallow bay of about 13,000 square kilometres, the bay is
broken into a series of gulfs, inlets and basins by dune ridges and
seagrass banks. Red wind blown sand dunes, soaring limestone cliffs,
birridas and white beaches are features of Shark Bay's ancient and
Turtles, whales, prawns, scallops, sea snakes, fish and sharks are
common. Communities of corals, sponges and other invertebrates,
together with a unique mix of tropical and temperate fish species, have
also formed in some areas. The wide intertidal flats on the shores of
Shark Bay support a unique community of burrowing molluscs, hermit
crabs and other invertebrates. But the very foundation of Shark Bay's
ecosystem is the seagrass - meadows and meadows of it.
Dugongs and marine turtles are frequently seen in the bay. In
Australian waters, herbivorous green turtles are more numerous than
other marine turtles, which are carnivores. Individual turtles are
common in Shark Bay all year round and congregations of turtles can be
seen from the end of July, although the start of the breeding season is
usually later. Traditionally, turtles and dugongs formed an important
part of the diet of Aboriginal people but in Shark Bay these animals
are not subject to as much hunting pressure as in other parts of the
Dirk Hartog Island
Though an isolated location, Dirk Hartog Island holds great
significance in Australia's history as it became the most visited
location on the Australian coastline prior to European settlement in
1788. It could be aegued that Dirk Hartog Island is where Australia's
recorded history began.
It was here that two Dutchmen left pewter plates recording their
visits in 1616 (Dirk Hartog) and 1696 (William Vlamingh) respectively;
two French explorers fell out in 1801 over the ethics of removing the
plates and taking them back to France; and 29 years earlier another
Frenchman had come ashore here and claimed the place for France,
leaving a bottle recording the event. It was to remain buried in the
sand of Turtle Bay until 1988 when it was recovered by an expedition of
the WA Maritime Museum.
Flanked by Dirk Hartog Island to the west and Peron Peninsula to the
east, Denham Sound is named after Captain Henry Mangles Denham, a Royal
Navy Hydrographer who surveyed a portion of Shark Bay in the HMS Herald
in 1858. The town of Denham was gazetted in 1898, and at that time was
locally known as "Freshwater Camp". The site chosen for this townsite
was the only location in Shark Bay providing a good supply of fresh
The local population at that time was principally engaged in
pearling, and many opposed declaring a townsite, because the process
used to obtain the pearls and pearl shell would force them to move away
from the townsite where health laws would now apply.
Named after Francois Peron, the French zoologist who accompanied the
Nicolas Baudin scientific expedition to Australia in 1801, Peron
Peninsula is one of two peninsulas on Shark Bay. The peninsula's most
famous attractions are Denham, Australia's most westerly town, the
dolphins of Monkey Mia and Francois Peron National Park. The park
covers some 52,500 hectares at the northern extreme of the Peron
Peninsula, and is adjacent to the Shark Bay Marine Park. The drive to
the end of the peninsula is a 4WD track only, but the vivid colours of
the stunning coastal scenery is well worth the effort.
One of only six places in the world with living marine
Stromatolites, or "living fossils", Hamelin Pool also has the
distinction of being Western Australia's only marine nature reserve.
The Stromatolites look like bubble-blowing rocky lumps strewn around
the beach but are actually built by living organisms too small for the
human eye to see. Stromatolites are able to survive in the area because
Hamelin Pool's water is twice as saline as normal sea water and
seagrasses and many other forms of life cannot survive there.
A body of highly saline water to the east of the southern section of
Peron Peninsula. Taillefer Isthmus, on its southern shore, joins Peron
Peninsula to the mainland. Shell Beach is a fifty metre wide ribbon
around the bight's waters edge comprised of a deposit of billions of
tiny coquina bivalve shells. Due to the shape of the bight and the high
salinity of the water, a large population of cockles flourish and when
they die the next storm brings another layer of shells to the beach. In
some places, the shells are five metres deep.
Holocene fossil shell deposits are found on Point Petit, the narrow
peninsula between Hamelin Pool and L'Haridon Bight, and are presently
being mined. Lharidon Bight was named by French explorer Nicolas Baudin
during his visit to the Shark Bay area in July 1801. The name honours
Dr. Francois-Etienne Lharidon de Cremenec, one of two surgeons on the
expedition vessel Geographe.