Ningaloo Reef and diving in Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef is a great spot to see Western Australia's marine life.

Ningaloo Marine Park

Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia Stretching for 260kms along the north-west coast, Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia and arguably the best preserved reef complex in the world.

Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, its more famous cousin on the east coast, much of the Ningaloo reef lies within a few hundred metres of the shore (7kms at its furthest) and in parts is just a short wade from the beach. For this reason it is one of Western Australia's most popular destinations for watersports including swimming, snorkelling and diving.

The biodiversity of the reef is truly astonishing with more than 500 fish species and 200 species of soft and hard coral forming mesmerising underwater gardens in the shallow lagoons. The annual mass spawning of the coral (when eggs and sperm are released into the ocean) takes place 10 to 12 days after the full moon in March. The coral reef fish of Ningaloo are among the most beautiful and intricately patterned tropical fish in the world and due to the reef's proximity to the land can be enjoyed even by novice snorkellers without the need for oxygen tanks or a diving qualification.

Diving with whale sharks in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia The Ningaloo Marine Park, which contains the reef, extends 10 miles out to sea and encompasses more than 5,000 sq kms of ocean.

The Park is perhaps most famous for whale sharks, the world's biggest fish species which sometimes grow up to 18 metres long, which converge on the area from late March to early July. The whale sharks are a huge draw for scuba divers from all around the world.

Migrating whales (mainly humpback but also minke and pilot whales) can also be seen between June and late September travelling from their summer breeding grounds in the north to their winter feeding grounds in the Antarctic. Dugongs can be seen between May and early September. Turtles, dolphins, reef sharks, stingrays and manta rays can be seen throughout the year.

Ningaloo Reef is the only place in Australia where you can dive with the whale sharks. Nothing can compare to the thrill of swimming beside these gentle giants.

Exmouth Navy Pier Dive

Navy Pier Exmouth. Photo by Richard Madden The Point Murat Navy Pier near the town of Exmouth at the far northern tip of Western Australia's Coral Coast is one of the world's most unusual dive sites, and regularly voted among the ten best in the world.

The Navy pier was built in the sixties to facilitate sea supplies to a nearby US communications facility that only reverted to Australian use in the nineties and is now administered by the Australian Federal Police. Only one dive operator is allowed to use the navy pier and security is very tight with strict admittance procedures.

The dive site itself is quite small - the central section of the pier is less than 100 metres wide and 20 metres deep - but its proximity to the teeming marine life of Ningaloo Reef and the fact that no fishing is allowed has resulted in a quite remarkable diversity and size of fish species for such a small area.

On any given day several species of shark, octopus, rays, barracuda, stone fish, eels, exotic lion and scorpion fish, huge schools of trevally, myriad species of psychedelic nudibranch among many others species can all be seen within minutes of one another, not to mention giant potato cod fish over a metre long and weighing up to 200 kg.

Access to and from the water is from a platform on the side of the pier and because the deepest part of the dive is only a modest 14 metres, dives last about 50 minutes on one tank. Visibility is usually at least 10 metres and the number of divers on the pier is limited to around 15 on any one dive.

David Ross
David Ross - Ningaloo Reef Dreaming
"Exmouth Navy Pier keeps getting voted Number 6 dive site in the world"

Diving in the south west

The south west also offers some great diving. Dunsborough is home to one of the largest accessible dive wrecks in the Southern Hemisphere, the former HMAS Swan. Sitting in 35 metres of water and with a slight list, it has become home to all kinds of fish and marine animals. You'll see schools of bulls eye fish in many of the ship's rooms, while King George whiting and brim swim around the hull. Samson fish, blue devil and sweep are also commonly seen. HMAS Swan Dive Wreck is about a 15 minute boat ride out to sea from Meelup Beach. A number of operators offer dive tours to the Swan Dive Wreck.

Read more about marine life and activities in Western Australia
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Western Australia tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
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