Eleven Little Known Facts About Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia has long empty beaches, astonishing marine life and world-heritage listing combined with a strong cultural heritage. It tops many a wishlist of discerning travellers as the opportunity to explore this remote and wildly beautiful coral reef and coastline also provides iconic marine wildlife interactions. Here are 10 little-known facts about Ningaloo Reef that will bump it up to the top of your wishlist!


Ningaloo_Reef_Western_Australia-81361 – Ningaloo Reef is a treasure trove of maritime history, dotted with shipwrecks that you can explore both scuba-diving and snorkelling.

Long before Ningaloo Reef was famous for it’s opportunity to experience globally significant aggregations of iconic marine megafauna, including the best opportunity in the world to encounter the internationally celebrated whale shark (Rhincodontypus), the world’s largest fish”(source: Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Nomination). It was famous to ocean mariners for a very different reason – it’s treacherous nature to passing ships.

Shipwrecks are found at various locations along Ningaloo Reef and often visited on Sail Ningaloo tours. For more information about wrecks of Ningaloo Reef and the Coral Coast download this great document from the Museum of Western Australia

2 – 69 Species that are listed in the IUCN Red-list of Threatened Species find protection in the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park.


The marine life statistics for Ningaloo Reef are quite amazing:

  • More than 50 per cent of Indian Ocean coral species are found at Ningaloo Reef, with over 300 species in 54 genera
  • The marine park also contains 738 species of reef fish, over 1,000 species of marine algae, 600 species of crustaceans, 655 mollusc species and 75 species of true cave invertebrates
  • The slope and shelf communities of the world-heritage area are exceptional with 155 sponge species, most new to science and at least 25 new species of echinoderms (that is just the known ones!).
  • Plus 69 Species from the IUCN red-list of Threatened Species


3 – It is one of the largest biological structures known and visible from space


Ningaloo_Reef_Western_Australia-8863Often compared to it’s east coast cousin (the Great Barrier Reef), Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is very different. It is a fringing reef, visible from space and one fo the largest biological structures known.

From gorges such as Shothole Canyon, the visitor looks across ancient limestone cliffs, built from sediments deposited in vanished oceans, to the living reef below; and the finer resolution afforded to a diver reveals the spectacular coral gardens, rich colours and abundant life of the reef” –(source: Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Nomination).


4 – The Ningaloo Coast and Reef get their name from Australian Aboriginal Wajarri language

The Nyinggulu (Ningaloo) Coast is culturally significant to Aboriginal people, who have an ongoing connection to the area spanning between 30,000 to 60,000 years before present. The word “Nyinggulu” was recorded in the 1800’s and means deepwater. Other suggested meanings include promontory.

5 – American whalers operated in the area some 90 years before European settlement for grazing.

The first recorded contact with North West Cape was in 1618 by the Dutch shipZeewolf. Later, American whalers were known to frequent the area conducting ship-based whaling (the whales were ‘processed’ onboard). Shore-based whalers operated from the historic Norwegian Bay from 1913. Between 1936 and 1938 factory ships with chasers operated off the north-west coast, taking a total of 7,240 humpback whales in three years.   (source: Ningaloo Reef Marine Park Management Plan)

Thankfully whaling was ceased before whale populations were completely decimated and the annual humpback whale migration to Ningaloo Reef is a celebration and a joy. Whales can put on spectacular displays including breaching where they are able to launch nearly their whole body out of the water!


6 –At Ningaloo Reef in autumn each year there is a mass spawning of Corals.

Influence by the full moon, the exact date can only be estimate by scientists. The Leeuwin Current is a great flow of tropical water that moves southward along the Western Australia coast taking coral eggs and fish larvae, that don’t settle on the Ningaloo Reef from the coral spawning, south with it. These may settle as far away as the Abrolhos Islands or Rottnest Island The Leeuwin current begins to strengthen at the same time as the coral spawning has a major influence over the Western Australia marine life. Source.


Ningaloo_Reef_Western_Australia-91587– Coral Bay Beach was voted in the Top 25 Australian beaches in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.


Given that Coral Bay is off the beaten track for the vast majority of travellers to Australia (many of whom solely visit the east coast). It is pretty impressive to see Coral Bay Beach rank so well! Perhaps it is the fact that you can snorkel corals straight from the beach? Or the incredible sunsets over the Indian Ocean?         Maybe it is the lack of crowds, the long beautiful sandy stretch or the joy of paddling a kayak out from the sand and across the coral? Pehaps it is all of these! Check out the comments and photos for Coral Bay in the Top 25 Australian Beaches.


 8 – The Ningaloo Coast has an estimated 10,000 Turtle Nests Each Year!!

Three of the world’s seven marine turtle species nest on the beaches of Ningaloo Reef each year. Turtles nest during the summer months (Nov – Mar) and include: Loggerhead Turtles, Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles. The Cape Conservation Group (CCG), the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW), Murdoch University and WWF Australia have developed the Ningaloo Turtle Program to contribute to the conservation of marine turtles and their associated habitats. Learn more about the Ningaloo Turtle program and the world-heritage Ningaloo Reef coastline, including Exmouth and Coral Bay.


9 – Ningaloo Reef is a megafauna highway!

“Large mammals abound in this marine Serengeti. At least five species of giant baleen whale regularly visit the park, including the three largest of the rorquals (blue, fin and sei whales are the three largest animal species in the world), humpback whales, and northern minke whales. Dolphins, orcas and sea lions play and hunt in waters off the reef. A dugong community of up to 1,000 animals feeds in the seagrass beds.”source: Ningaloo Reef Marine Park Management Plan)

Visitors to the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park can experiencemanta-rays, turtles, dugongs, whale sharks, dolphins, whales, reef sharks and more. Manta rays can be found gliding along the shallows adjacent white, sandy beaches or at ‘cleaning stations’. Dolphins can often be spotted while sailing along the reef and dugongs are found close to seagrass beds where they graze for food.


10 – The Ningaloo Coast has Subterranean Habitat and Fauna that were important in it’s World-Heritage Listing.

The Ningaloo Coast karst habitat and associated anchialine ecosystems show that a subterranean system can function similarly to an ocean island or archipelago in terms of preserving biodiversity. The biogeographical associations of the underground fauna of the Ningaloo Coast reveal climate changes over thousands of millennia on a local and regional scale. They also chronicle the geotectonic meandering of Australia across hemispheres and tens of millions of years, contributing to the reconstruction of supercontinents and vanished oceans. source: Ningaloo Reef Marine Park Management Plan)

Cape Range National Park is the terrestrial national park that lies adjacent to Ningaloo Reef.   It is one of the most beautiful coastlines in Australia and is also a world-heritage-listed area.


11 – Sail Ningaloo is the only liveaboard that allows you explore Ningaloo Reef over many days from the comfort and luxury of our award-wining ecotourism vessel.

Our all-inclusive overnight sailing holidays allow you to see and experience world class snorkeling and scuba diving whilst still having plenty of time to relax and unwind. Come and experience Western Australia’s very own world class Ningaloo Reef in comfort & style with Sail Ningaloo!More Information…