Shark Bay's History

Tourism, Conservation and the Future of Shark Bay

Shark Bay is one of Western Australia’s most popular destinations for nature-based recreation, attracting some 150,000 visitors a year. In the past, fishing and visiting the Monkey Mia dolphins were the primary activities, but there is growing demand for experiencing Shark Bay’s many other unique and interesting features. The tourism industry is increasingly managed from a conservation perspective, ensuring visitors to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area continue to have a world-class experience. An active tourism association is based in Denham and works to unify the bay's tourism businesses. 

A wide range of activities

Shark Bay is a recreation destination of local, state, national and international significance. Popular activities include fishing, camping, four-wheel driving, birdwatching, snorkelling, diving, boating, kayaking and photography. But by far the most popular activity is visiting the Monkey Mia dolphins. About 100,000 people go to Monkey Mia each year.

The Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation creates and manages tourism facilities such as the Monkey Mia Visitor Centre, campgrounds, walking tracks and lookouts.

Ecotourism potential

Shark Bay World Heritage Area’s significant and diverse range of natural values provides enormous ecotourism potential. If managed appropriately, ecotourism can increase knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the region with minimal impact on the integrity of its World Heritage values.

  • Scenic boat or four-wheel drive tours to Shark Bay’s various peninsulas, prongs and islands can take people to sites otherwise inaccessible to the majority of visitors.
  • Boat-based marine wildlife tours are becoming increasing popular at Monkey Mia, where visitors can view dugongs, sharks, rays, turtles and dolphins at close hand.
  • Guided sea-kayaking adventures are perfect for exploring the World Heritage Area’s 1500 km of magnificent coastline.
  • Scenic flights are also a great way to appreciate Shark Bay’s stunning scenery.

Ecotourism also provides opportunities for indigenous people to show their traditional country to visitors, and to raise awareness of and respect for the environment. In recent years guided walking tours incorporating bush tucker, medicinal plants, animal tracking and cultural history have begun operating near Monkey Mia. Learn more about Aboriginal business initiatives here.

Future directions

Careful environmental management is vital for the protection and maintenance of Shark Bay’s World Heritage values. Since tourists are drawn to the region’s natural features, environmental management is also the foundation of Shark Bay’s tourism industry.

As understanding of Shark Bay’s natural values increases, some areas previously used for pastoralism have been purchased for conservation.

  • Peron, a 40,000 hectare station grazed since 1881, was bought by the Western Australian Government in 1990 and gazetted as Francois Peron National Park in 1992. It is now the site of Project Eden, a conservation initiative to rejuvenate the degraded ecosystem and release captive-bred threatened species into the wild.
  • Nanga Station was bought by the Commonwealth and Western Australian Governments in December 2000 to better conserve Shark Bay’s World Heritage values, including its tree heath. Learn more about this unusual vegetation type here.
  • Part of Tamala Station is proposed as a nature reserve, to better protect the spectacular Zuytdorp Cliffs. Tamala also features historic water tanks, wells and stock fences.
  • The Dirk Hartog Island lease has been purchased by the Western Australian Government and is proposed to become a national park.

The creation of national parks and nature reserves on these former leases means an even greater range of ecotourism opportunities awaits! For example, Project Eden plans to expand its focus and give visitors the chance to meet some of the rare and amazing creatures that call Shark Bay home. Based on nocturnal guided walks, this innovative ecotourism project will help educate visitors about the plight of threatened species that few, if any, tourists will ever see in the wild.
It is clear that environmental values and the tourism industry are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they combine to create a path for future management.

You can discover more about Shark Bay’s past, present and future at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham.