Western Australia's Diving and Marine Life

Diving is a favorite past time in Australia and off the coast of Western Australia, something special happens at Ningaloo Reef every year. It's so special it lures people from all over the world. They come to dive and swim with whale sharks - the world's largest fish, more than 12-metres long and weighing more than 11 tonnes.

Diving with Whale Sharks in Western Australia

There are few experiences in the world to rival diving and swimming with the giant whale sharks by a tropical coral reef. . The whale sharks take centre stage between mid-March and mid-June.

Ningaloo - Western Australia's largest coral reef - protects a lagoon rich in marine life and, unlike the Great Barrier Reef, is onshore. It's home to more than 500 species of fish and around 250 coral species. Famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, has rated the coral and marine life at Ningaloo superior to that of the Great Barrier Reef.

As well as whale sharks, divers can encounter humpback whales, dolphins, dugongs, manta rays, huge cod, sharks and turtles. All are in abundance at Ningaloo Reef. Coral outcrops, home to the reef fish, can be found as close as 20 metres to shore, displaying an array of delicate formations almost beyond belief. There are many ways to explore the reef - from a dive boat, catamaran, yacht, a coral viewing boat, sea kayak, snorkelling or from the air.

Ningaloo, which begins just north of Carnarvon and straddles the coast for 260-kilometres to the tip of the North West Cape and Exmouth, is just one of many world class marine life and dive sites around Western Australia's 12,500 kilometres of coastline.

From the pristine beaches of Cape Le Grande on the south coast to the unspoilt continental shelf atolls of the Rowley Shoals off the far north-west coast of Broome in the Kimberley, Western Australia has a diverse range of diving experiences.

At Cape Le Grande, near Esperance, the rusting wreck of a 33,000 tonne tanker - the Sanko Harvest - has become home to schools of blue groper fish and a major attraction for divers. It's the second largest vessel in the world that can be dived. (Nearby are 100 or more granite islands which form the 200-kilometre-long Recherche Archipelago. Some of the islands are little more than a stone's throw from the shore with submerged rocks and reefs forming a paradise for divers).

The Sanko Harvest - wrecked in 1991 - is just one of a number of shipwrecks and vessels purposely sent to Davey Jones' locker around WA's vast coastline that have become a challenge to divers. Other include:

- The wreck of a former whalechaser, Cheynes Beach 111, sits guard near the entrance of Albany's King George Sound, providing home to a huge variety of marine life.

- A former Australian Navy warship - HMAS Swan - the largest scuttled ship in the southern hemisphere. It was sunk purposely for divers in 1997 in 35 metres of water in Geographe Bay, off Dunsborough. It has already become home to many fish species. (Another old warship - the former guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth - will be sunk in King George Sound at Albany in the next 12-18 months as a dive wreck and artificial reef).

- Seven vessels off Rottnest Island, near Fremantle - Lady Elizabeth (a composite wood and iron vessel wrecked in 1878); Macedon (a British-built iron screw steamer wrecked in 1883); Mira Flores (a German-owned, British-built iron barque wrecked in 1886); Janet (a three-masted schooner - at the time the largest vessel built at Fremantle - wrecked in 1887); Raven (a British-built, three-masted wooden barque wrecked in 1891); City of York and Denton Holme (both iron barques wrecked in the 1890s); Kiryo Maru 1 (a Japanese tuna boat which went aground in l984 and left in situ); and Miwok 11 (a flat top barge scuttled in 1983).

- Historical Dutch ship wrecks at the Abrolhos Islands, 40-kilometres west of Geraldton. Called the Islands of Angry Ghosts, the Abrolhos is probably the only place in the world where you can swim in gardens of tropical coral with a pair of sea lions for company.

- The wreck of the Gudron, the biggest wooden shipwreck found off Western Australia, lies in Shark Bay Marine Park. It's rated by the Western Australian Maritime Museum as one of WA's best wreck dives with its rich variety of fish life, including turtles, giant groper, stingrays, spotted cod, many species of trevally and sweetlips.

While the Rowley Shoals, 300-kilometres offshore from Broome, cannot boast of any wreck dives, it offers some of the world's best diving. The Shoals are famed for their almost untouched coral gardens, giant clams and large and plentiful fish. Giant potato cod and maori wrasse wait to be hand fed and follow divers around, while colourful reef fish show little fear, and trevally, mackerel and tuna hover in schools.

Western Australia is now regarded as one of the world's best places for viewing the greater whales. Just about every major tourist town along the vast coastline now offers visitors the chance to view the giants on their way south.

Perth, the State capital, is the only city in the world where enormous whales can be seen breaching, rolling, finning and tail slapping during a short boat trip. The whales encountered are usually humpbacks whose remarkable journey begins in the north of WA, where they mate in the warm tropical waters required by new born calves. However, they soon need to travel south with their calves to the highly productive feeding grounds in the Antarctic, to fatten up on tonnes of protein-rich krill.

While the whale shark and humpback whale season lasts for only a couple of months, the bottle nose dolphins are a permanent year-round attraction at Monkey Mia. World Heritage-listed Shark Bay is the only place on earth where wild dolphins come in from the ocean depths on a regular basis to interact with humans. (The South West city of Bunbury also has its own dolphin family. At Koombana Beach, visitors are encouraged to swim and wade with the wild dolphins).

The Shark Bay Marine Park offers many shallow, but highly recommended, diving and snorkelling sites. There are about 10,000 dugongs - 10 per cent of the world's population. Like marine turtles, they inhabit all areas around Shark Bay and are frequently seen. Other drawcards in the Shark Bay area are a 100 kilometre beach made entirely of shells and 3800 million year old fossils known as stromatolites at Hamelin Pool.

It's certainly no surprise that fishing in Western Australia is an angler's dream come true, whether it's a spot of river fishing for trout in the picturesque rivers of the State's South West or true adventure fishing for barramundi in the far north. Many beaches are accessible only by four-wheel-drive, but the fishing can be as sensational as the scenery.

Game fish like marlin are highly prized and sought after by those who can afford the sport. Renowned waters for big bites are the continental shelf off Exmouth, and off Broome and Rottnest Island. Record-breaking catches are commonplace along the WA coast, as are the pub tales of the big one that got away. But there's always another day for a true fisherman.

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