UNESCO bestows world heritage status on Ningaloo Coast, WA

Between April and July each year, whale sharks delight divers and boat loads of tourists from all over the world.
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Ningaloo Reef and coast in Western Australia, an area of more than 708,000 hectares, have been declared heritage listed by UNESCO.

The region, which has one the world's longest near shore reefs, is home to a number of rare marine species including sea turtles and whale sharks. It becomes the 19th place in Australia to be world heritage listed.

The federal government nominated Ningaloo for world heritage in January last year, but Shell's plans to drill about 50km off the coast sparked concerns mining in the region could jeopardise its inclusion on the list.

Paul Gamblin from the WWF says the listing is a big win for everyone who campaigned for the area to be protected.

'This is really something that the tens of thousands of people who supported the save Ningaloo campaign over the years should really celebrate,' he said. 'This is a victory, and we don't get that many victories in the environment game and this is one where people who wake up to hear this news should feel really proud about this is great.'

Mr Gamblin says the reef will now be better protected. 'It says that activities that damage or could damage Ningaloo and the broader area around the reef shouldn't happen so activities that threaten those values shouldn't be allowed to occur,' he said.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says the listing adds more protection to the area.

'I think there's already a strong view both from the Western Australian Government and certainly from the Australian Government that this is an area that we already had decided that we wanted to have preserved and now that's been recognised internationally,' he said. 'With more than 200km of spectacular coral reef off a rugged limestone peninsula, the Ningaloo Coast is a stunning and unique contrast between reef and arid landscape.'

Mr Burke says the declaration will most likely increase tourism in the area.

'This is actually one of the best ways to promote tourism in an area, to get it recognised as one of the most precious places on Earth by the World Heritage Committee.'