Interesting facts about Ningaloo Reef, Australia

33 Fun Facts about Ningaloo Reef in Australia

In this article, we’ll cover some fun and interesting facts about Ningaloo Reef.

Ningaloo Reef is an expansive marine marvel with astonishing biodiversity and unparalleled beauty. One of the longest-fringing coral reefs on the planet, this natural wonderland attracts thousands of tourists each year, who come to witness its vibrant marine life and pristine underwater landscapes. 

1. The name Ningaloo comes from the Australian Aboriginal Wajarri language. The word Ningaloo has three different meanings, one of which is “deep water”. 

2. Ningaloo Reef is the only fringing reef in Australia. A fringing reef has a shallow backreef lagoon (the other two types of reef are barrier reefs, as in the Great Barrier Reef, and atolls).

A big piece of red coral
Coral in Ningaloo Reef

3. Ningaloo Reef is a 14-hour drive north of Perth in Western Australia. It is quite isolated and is on the opposite side of the country from the Great Barrier Reef.

4. Ningaloo Reef stretches over 162 miles (260 kilometers) along the Indian Ocean, making it one of the longest-fringing coral reefs in the world. It is 226 times the length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

5. In total, Ningaloo Reef covers an area of approximately 5,000 square miles (12,949 square kilometers). For context, The Great Barrier Reef spans almost 135,000 square miles (348,700 square kilometers), so Ningaloo Reef could fit into the Great Barriet Reef 27 times.

6. The reef is part of a larger coastal system called Ningaloo Coast. The Ningaloo Coast covers over 600,000 hectares (1,482,632 acres) of the Western Australian coastline. Ningaloo Coast was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 in recognition of its ecological significance.

7. Most of the reef and its surrounding waters are protected as part of the Ningaloo Marine Park. This marine park was established in 1987 to preserve marine life. Despite this, Ningaloo Reef is unfortunately threatened by climate change and pollution from the oil and gas industry, including the dumping of toxic waste.

Aerial view of the red coast of Australia and waves and coral reef below the surface
The reef is unusually close to the coast.

8. Ningaloo Reef could die within 30 years if temperatures around the world continue to rise. Scientists believe a global temperature rise of just 2°C (35°F) would be all it takes to kill the world’s coral reefs, including the Ningaloo Reef and Great Barrier Reef.

9. The reef is unique in that it lies exceptionally close to the mainland, with some parts only a few hundred meters from the shore. Ningaloo Reef’s outer edge, also known as the shelf edge, lies further from the coast and extends into deeper waters.

10. When it comes to depth, Ningaloo Reef varies dramatically. Some areas are only 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) deep, while other areas are up to 40 meters (131 feet) deep. Interestingly Niagara Falls is deeper than most areas of the reef with a maximum depth of 52 meters (170 feet).

11. Ningaloo Reef acts as a natural barrier. It protects the shoreline from strong ocean currents and storm surges. 

12. Ocean temperatures in Ningaloo Reef tend to vary between 22°C to 26°C (72°F to 79°F). However, the water temperature is predicted to rise, with coral bleaching set to occur annually by 2049. 

13. The wet season brings higher humidity and occasional rainfall, often accompanied by thunderstorms and tropical cyclones. In 2011, around 80-95 percent of the coral in the Bundegi area of the reef was severely damaged. This was due to a combination of a tropical cyclone and a marine heatwave.

A group of different types of coral reef
Various coral types in the reef

14. The reef is primarily composed of hard coral (scleractinian corals) that form intricate and colorful structures. These corals are the backbone of the reef ecosystem, providing shelter and habitat for thousands of marine species.

15. Seagrass meadows are found in the shallow waters around the reef. These underwater flowering plants, such as Posidonia australis and Halophila ovalis, are essential for various marine creatures, including dugongs and sea turtles, which graze on them.

16. There are more than 150 different species of marine sponges in Ningaloo Reef. They filter-feed on plankton and contribute to the nutrient cycling within the reef ecosystem.

17. Throughout the year, the waters of Ningaloo Reef become bioluminescent. This is thanks to a species of marine organism called siphonophores. This organism emits a glowing blue light when disturbed.

18. The beaches surrounding the reef are nesting grounds for various species of sea turtles. These include loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles.

A giant spotted whale shark swimming in the ocean
A whale shark around Ningaloo Reef

19. The reef teems with marine life, including over 500 fish species, some of which are found only in this region. Examples of marine life found in Ningaloo Reef include Angelfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Coral Trout, and Groper.

20. The reef is home to various shark species, including blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and occasionally tiger sharks. Great white sharks are rarely seen in Ningaloo Reef but sightings are increasing.

21. Ningaloo Reef is also renowned as one of the best places in the world to spot the gentle giant of the ocean, the whale shark. These creatures visit the reef between March and August each year. It’s believed that 200-400 individual whale sharks come to Ningaloo Reef every year.

22. Ningaloo Reef serves as an essential migratory pathway for various marine animals, such as manta rays, dolphins, and humpback whales. The reef is part of the “Humpback Whale Highway,” where humpback whales undertake their annual migration from the Antarctic.

23. The waters around the reef are inhabited by various sea snake species, some of which are highly venomous. The short-nosed sea snake was thought to be extinct until it was spotted in Ningaloo Marine Park after a 17-year absence.

Two scuba divers hovering above a wall of sea coral
Scuba divers at Ningaloo Reef

24. Ningaloo Reef is renowned for its sustainable and eco-friendly tourism practices. There are eco-lodges and campgrounds near the reef. These lodges and campgrounds provide visitors with the opportunity to stay close to the reef while also minimizing their ecological impact.

25. Approximately 280,000 tourists visit Ningaloo Reef annually. The economic value Ningaloo brings to Western Australia is worth more than $100 million. Almost 90% of the tourism in this area comes from reef tourism.

26. Many tourists visit the reef for whale-watching tours. Tourists flock to the reef to spot humpback whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and more.

27. Ningaloo Reef is also a historical treasure trove, with several shipwrecks dotting the coastline. It’s possible to explore some of the wrecks on scuba diving tours. This is an activity that draws thousands of tourists every year.

28. The Ningaloo region has significant cultural importance for the local Indigenous people, who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Some tour operators offer guided tours led by local Indigenous people, providing insights into the region’s Aboriginal culture and history.

A sandy beach with green-blue water and some coral visible below surface
The beautiful Ningaloo coast

29. Ningaloo Reef is also a big hit with adventure travelers. Some extreme athletes attempt long-distance swims along the entire length of Ningaloo Reef, while others swim with whale sharks.

30. Experienced cave divers venture into the reef’s underwater caves and caverns, exploring the hidden world beneath the surface. Some have even attempted record dives.

31. Ningaloo Reef’s beauty and ecological significance have attracted various celebrities and famous personalities. Famous Australian writer Tim Winton is one celebrity that’s visited the reef.

32. Ningaloo Reef has been the focus of various TV documentary series. Examples of these include “Coral Sea Dreaming: Awaken” (1990) and “The Ningaloo – Australia’s Other Great Reef” (2017). Both of these documentaries highlight the marine life and underwater landscapes of the reef.

33. The reef has also inspired authors to write about it. Books like “The Marine Life of Ningaloo Marine Park & Coral Bay” (1998) and “Ningaloo: Reflections on the Reef” (2015) highlight the beauty and importance of the Ningaloo Coast.

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