Flora & Fauna
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area is renound for its unique Flora and Fauna.
In the Peron Peninsula Area a project called Project Edan has been introduced since 1995.
Project Eden aims to control introduced predators on the 1050 square kilometre Peron Peninsula and turn it into a haven for rare and endangered native animals. It is the biggest arid zone native conservation program ever undertaken in Australia, to reverse the decline of a wide range of native animals caused by fox and feral cat predatation.
A wildlife protection project near Shell Beach involving a 3.4 km fence aimed at controlling foxes and feral cats on Peron Peninsula. The fence provides a 1050 sq km enclosed conservation area to protect re-introduced and existing native animals like Mallee Fowl, Bilbies, Echidna, Woylie, Bungarra and threatened Grass Wren birds.
Plants of Shark Bay
Western Australia is one of the most botanically diverse areas in the world – and Shark Bay is one of the most diverse areas in Western Australia. Located at the transition of two botanical provinces, Shark Bay features at least 820 species, including 53 endemic species, many rare and threatened species, and others at the limit of their geographic range. Its unusual tree heath, massive seagrass meadows and spectacular spring wildflower displays all contributed to Shark Bay’s World Heritage listing.
Wild Flowers Abound
Being at the northern exterme of the southern wildflower varieties and at the southern extreme of the northern varieties - Sahrk Bay has the longets wildflower season of any part of Western Australia, with more then 700 species of flowering plants. Of these, more than 150 species are of special scientific interest - many exclusive to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. The aromatic Tamala rose is one of the regions most well - known and showy species. The Shark Bay daisy, Royces gum, Rogersons grevillea and golden lanbstail are also confined to the Shark Bay region. The sceptre banksia puts out spectacular large flowers - spikes in summer and, after good winter rains, everlastings often grow in massive drifts of that will surprise and delight visitors.
Vegetation Types in Shark Bay
Shark Bay is a warm, dry, wind-swept region and although it has no tall forests or woodlands it does boast a variety of other kinds of plant communities, including seagrass meadows, shrublands, mangroves and low, wind-pruned heath. It also marks the transition point between two major botanical provinces: the temperate South West and the arid Eremaean. As a result Shark Bay is very species-rich. At least 820 species live here, including many threatened and endemic plants and others at the limit of their southern or northern range. Living at the extreme, these ‘pioneer’ species have stretched their survival capabilities to withstand their harsh environment. The significance and richness of Shark Bay’s plants contributed to its listing as a World Heritage Area.
Two botanical zones
Shark Bay’s vegetation features plants of both the arid and temperate botanical provinces.
- The South West Botanical Province is dominated by plants typical of cooler, wetter southwestern Australia. These include members of the Proteaceae (banksia and grevilleas) and Myrtaceae (eucalyptus, melaleuca, thryptomene and verticordia) families. Such species are common on the southern part of Nanga, the eastern part of Tamala pastoral lease, and the Zuytdorp Nature Reserve.
- The Eremaean province is dominated by desert-adapted species such as Acacia (wattle), samphire and spinifex. Vegetation on Peron Peninsula is mainly Eremaean. Monkey Mia, for example, is heavily populated by limestone wattle (Acacia sclerosperma), bowgada (Acacia ramulosa), kurara or dead finish (Acacia tetragonophylla) and dune wattle or umbrella bush (Acacia ligulata). Hakeas and grevilleas, plants of cooler climes, reach their northern limit on Peron. Spinifex hummocks occur on its southern reaches.
Where the zones overlap
The two botanical zones overlap in a region known as the tree heath. The most diverse plant community in Shark Bay, the tree heath is found on the southern parts of Nanga and Tamala pastoral lease down to the inland section of Zuytdorp Nature Reserve.
Shark Bay’s Tree Heath
The tree heath is the most diverse and complex plant community in Shark Bay. Found in the ‘overlap’ between two major botanical provinces, the South West and the Eremaean, it contains about half of the flowering plant species endemic to Shark Bay. The plants of the tree heath are valuable in understanding how species adapt to different environments, and the factors which limit plant distribution and abundance. The tree heath occurs nowhere else in Western Australia and was a factor in Shark Bay being declared a World Heritage Area, and features some rare and priority species.
In the tree heath, Eucalypts, Proteacae and other plants from the woodlands of temperate southwestern Australia mingle with the Acacia, samphire and spinifex scrublands of the desert. This heathland features scattered trees no more than 6 m high, such as one-sided bottlebrush and dune wattle, interspersed with species of Eucalyptus, Lamarchea and Eremaea. The understorey features Hakea, Calytrix (starflower), Baeckea, Scholtzia, Pityrodia and Melaleuca, plus numerous herbs and grasses.
Another feature of tree heath is the presence of unusually large forms of shrubs, a phenomenon some botanists have called ‘gigantism’. Heath species such as Ashby’s banksia (Banksia ashbyi) and Shark Bay grevillea (Grevillea rogersoniana) have exceptionally large specimens in Shark Bay, at the northern limits of their range. The reasons for the presence of these ‘giant’ shrubs are not fully understood.
Tree heath extends from the southern parts of Nanga and Tamala Station down to the inland section of Zuytdorp Nature Reserve. For example, it can be seen on the road to Useless Loop, about 25 km from the Shark Bay Road turnoff.
Clcik here for a map of the area.
A colourful display of wildflowers can be seen through winter depending on rainfall from July to October. Everlastings flowering in white, yellow and pink can be found on most inland roadways and the verges of highways. Flowering native bush and scrubland also occurs during this period.
Special plants found nowhere else
A large number of plants are restricted, or almost entirely restricted, to the tree heath community. These include:
- Beard’s mallee (Eucalyptus beardiana), an endangered species;
- Shark Bay grevillea (Grevillea rogersoniana), a priority species;
- The wattle Acacia drepanophylla, a priority species;
- The herb Macarthuria intricata, a priority species;
- Shark Bay featherflower (Verticordia cooloomia), a priority species;
- Shark Bay mallee (Eucalyptus roycei);
- Prickly woollybush (Adenanthos acanthophyllus); and
Seagrasses of Shark Bay
What are seagrasses?
Seagrasses are marine plants with the same basic structure as land plants. They produce flowers; have strap-like or oval leaves and a root system. They grow in shallow coastal waters with sandy or muddy bottoms. They are not seaweeds (a type of algae) but are most closely related to lilies. They thrive in waters with low wave energy such as Shark Bay.
Seagrass in Shark Bay
Seagrass is probably the most dominant organism in Shark Bay, greatly modifying the physical, chemical and biological environment. Even the local geology of the bay has been influenced by seagrass which slows water flow, traps sediment and helps build massive sand banks that alter current patterns and modify salinity in large areas of Shark Bay. Visit our geology
pages to see how seagrass has helped shape Shark Bay.
Seagrass also has an important role in the local ecology. Around 4000 square kilometres of sea floor are colonised by seagrass, making these the biggest seagrass banks in the world. Shark Bay’s large dugong population rely on these seagrass banks for food, moving between different meadows during the year to feed.
The stromatolites of Hamelin Pool probably owe their existence to seagrass. The large banks of sand built up by the seagrass meadow have restricted water flow into Hamelin Pool, causing the salinity level to rise and create an environment perfect for stromatolites.
Fish of Shark Bay
Shark Bay is home to an amazing array of marine life. The meeting place of warm waters from the north and cooler waters from the south, the bay provides the best of both worlds for tropical and temperate species. More than 320 species of fish live here, from emperors and angel fish to remoras and wrasse. Recreational fishers come to battle Spanish mackerel, tailor and kingfish, while commercial fishers harvest whiting, mullet and snapper. Divers delight in parrotfish, damselfish and other tropical species, which wind through the water in a kaleidoscope of colour and form.
There is a reason why Shark Bay is so called. “Sharks we caught a great many of, which our men eat very savourily,” wrote English explorer William Dampier in 1699. “Among them we caught one which was 11 feet long.” Dampier named the place “Shark’s Bay” in honour of these magnificent fish.
Invertebrates of Shark Bay
Shark Bay is crammed with invertebrate life, both on the land and in the water. The land invertebrates are relatively poorly known although surveys of spiders, centipedes and millipedes suggest that the diversity of invertebrates is high. In one survey 169 species of ground spider and 34 trapdoor spiders were found! Seventeen millipede and centipede species have been recorded in Shark Bay.
Shark Bay also has a high diversity of marine invertebrates. Divers can enjoy exploring the 80 or more coral species flourishing around Dirk Hartog Island
and Bernier and Dorre Islands
, and in South Passage
. Hard corals abound, including vase, plate and brain corals and a great variety of colourful staghorn species. Amongst these are many soft corals, nudibranchs, anemones, brittle stars and cowries, nestling among the sponges on the reef.
Banana prawns, brown tiger prawns and western king prawns are all found in the region, which supports a significant prawn fishery. Scallops, squid and lobsters are also important to commercial and recreational fishers, and pearl oysters
are cultured and farmed.
The intertidal flats and shores of Shark Bay support a thriving community of crabs and snails, while the sandy shallows are home to at least 218 bivalve species! The region’s best-known bivalve is the burrowing Hamelin or Heart cockle, Fragum erugatum
Reptiles and Amphibians of Shark Bay
Shark Bay World Heritage Area is home to at least 100 species of reptile and amphibian. One-third of Australia’s dragon lizard species live here, as well as three species of sand swimming skinks found nowhere else in the world. Many reptile species are at the northern or southern limit of their range, and others are new to science.
On the land
Beautiful goannas, legless lizards and geckos are abundant, and snakes such as the gwardar and mulga may be seen basking in the summer sun. You might also come across these Shark Bay locals:
- Thorny devil
- Shoemaker frog
- Sandhill frog
- In the sea
Shark Bay’s marine environment is also habitat for reptiles, including six species of sea snake
and a population of over 6,000 marine turtles. It is an important breeding site for the endangered loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta). Green turtles (Chelonia mydas)
are commonly seen in the World Heritage Area, congregating in sheltered inlets.
Most of Shark Bay’s reptiles are harmless to humans; some are threatened
by human activities.
Mammals of Shark Bay
Shark Bay is best known as the home of the Monkey Mia dolphins
. One of the world’s best-known and most-loved species, these bottlenose dolphins attract thousands of visitors each year. But Shark Bay also harbours creatures far more elusive and mysterious. Some weigh 45 grams, others weigh 45 tonnes. Some are furred, some are finned; some live under the ground and others never leave the water. But they all have one thing in common: they are mammals, just like you.
Unique on the planet
Some of Shark Bay’s mammals are among the world’s rarest. Five threatened mammal species are found in Shark Bay and four are found in the wild nowhere else in the world. Other species have been introduced to the area after being almost wiped out in other parts of Australia. Shark Bay’s value to the world’s wildlife is so significant that it is internationally recognised as a World Heritage Area. Some of our special mammals are:
Birds of Shark Bay
Shark Bay has a bounty of birds. More than 240 different species are found here, or about 35% of Australia’s bird species. They range from the 10-cm zebra finch to the six-foot emu; from the squeaky reel of the thick-billed grasswren to the haunting notes of the chiming wedgebill. Some, such as the common greenshank, fly 12,000 km between Shark Bay and Siberia. Others, like the Dorre Island rufous fieldwren, are found nowhere else in the world.
For some birds, such as the regent parrot, Shark Bay marks the northern limit of their range. For osprey, pelicans and other seabirds, Shark Bay is an ideal place to nest. Each spring more than 65 species visit during their migration from the northern hemisphere. Regardless of the season, Shark Bay is a place of global birding significance.
Marine Animals to Avoid:
Blue- ringed octopus - Blue - ringed octupus li8ve on reef flats and in tidal pools in muddy areas and can be recognised by their brilliant blue rings when disturbed. Be cautious when handling dead shells and when exploring underwater crevices or caverns.
Coneshells - Coneshells are conical and cylindrical in shape. By day they bury themselves in sand and emerge at night in search of small fish, snails or worms. you should never pick up live coneshells.
Stingrays - Stingrays are flat in shape and have a very sharp and spiky barb. Be sure to keep a wary eye out when wading in shallow water.
Stonefish - Stonefish are found around the top two thirds of the Australia coast. They inhabit coastal reefs, rocks and weeds as these structures provide good camouflage and usually lie partially buried on the seafloor in shallow marine environments.
Seasnakes - Seasnakes are also foiund at Shark Bay and some species are dangerous to people. They are quite curious and amy approach. Treat them just like land snakes if you dont touch them they should leave you alone.
Sharks - Sharks are common inhabitants of our coastal waters. To ensure they do not take an interest in your activities, dont clean fish around swimming areas.
Green and loggerhead turtles are the most common species seen in Shark Bay Waters. Dirk Hartog Island is the favoured nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead turtles in WA. Between 500-1000 females come ashore on Turtle Beach to lay up to 100 eggs per clutch. All turtles are protected under Wildlife legislation with Loggerhead turtles listed as facing extiction by the World Conservation Union.
An estimated 10,000 or 10% of the world's dugong population survive in the Shark Bay Marine Park. Extremely shy, these large docile marine mammals form one of the largest herds still in existence. Protected from hunting, dugongs are slow swimmers-grow to about 3.3 metres and weigh an average 250 kg. Associated with the mermaid myth due to its fluked tail and scientific name 'sirenia' (Latin: siren-enchantress) the dugong is endangered in most of the world. Wildlife tours usually encounter these animals on cruises from Monkey Mia and Denham.