Ningaloo heritage protection ‘limited’

Pressure from industry groups limited the boundaries drawn up by the federal and West Australian governments for the heritage listing of Ningaloo Reef, the Greens say.

The reef and a stretch of coast off WA’s northwest cape will be nominated for World Heritage status after Environment Minister Peter Garrett on Wednesday added it to Australia’s National Heritage List.

Stretching about 260km, from Exmouth to Coral Bay, the nominated area is a popular tourist precinct taking in pristine coral reefs and sponge gardens.

It is home to whales and dolphins and other unique marine life including dugongs, marine turtles and manta rays.

The Greens welcomed the heritage listing but Rachel Siewert, the party’s marine spokeswoman, said pressure from powerful landowners and developers prevented further protection.

“Supporters of the environmental values of this area would also have liked to have seen inclusion of a broader area of the Cape Range and the surrounding region, including the internationally significant Lake MacLeod,” Senator Siewert said on Thursday.

“I’m concerned that the federal government backed down in the face of pressure from vested interests in the area, which may affect the integrity of the nomination.”

The nomination for World Heritage status will be assessed over the next 18 months.

Scientists say the area has proved to be an ideal location for studies into the life of coral reefs to monitor their response to climate change.