Shark Bay’s World Heritage values and largely undeveloped environment attracts well over 100,000 visitors per year, not bad for an area with a population of less than 1,000 people! It is essential that tourism is managed well – not just for the long-term health of the environment, but for the industry’s future, too.
Providing access, managing impacts
People are drawn from around the world to explore Shark Bay’s many natural attractions. Whilst Monkey Mia’s dolphins have been the main tourist attraction for over 30 years, Shark Bay’s unique ecosystems, spectacular land and seascapes, abundant wildlife and cultural values represent a major resource for nature-based tourism (ecotourism). Learn more about ecotourism opportunities here. Or go here to plan your visit to Shark Bay.
But managers also need to ensure that Shark Bay’s values are enjoyed by future generations. For example, uncontrolled access to the coast is threatening some World Heritage values: damage from vehicles and uncontrolled camping is a major threat to the plant and animal communities of the fragile coastal shrublands. Careful management is therefore vital for the protection and maintenance of Shark Bay’s unique environment.
Management plans for Shark Bay’s marine and terrestrial conservation reserves contain detailed strategies to enable recreation and tourism activities while protecting World Heritage values. For example, the plans allow for the provision of
- facilities and activities such as the stromatolite boardwalk at Hamelin Pool, the Eagle Bluff clifftop boardwalk, and the lookouts at Skipjack Point.
- facilities at Peron Homestead to better interpret the amazing work of Project Eden and to enable visitors to experience Shark Bay’s more elusive animals, particularly threatened species that have been reintroduced to Peron Peninsula.
- visitor information and interpretation to promote responsible behaviour and to enhance understanding of Shark Bay’s values. Brochures and other publications, on-site signage, guided tours and even this website are all part of a strategy to give visitors an unforgettable experience.
The Shark Bay World Heritage Property Strategic Plan (download here) is the overarching plan for the World Heritage Area and provides management guidance across the numerous land tenures in the property.
Research for management
Knowledge of visitor expectations, patterns of use, satisfaction and impacts are crucial to effective management of the World Heritage Area. Research and monitoring provide the basis for improving management practices and being able to predict and respond to changes in visitation patterns and environmental conditions.
Visitor surveys are regularly conducted at key sites such as Monkey Mia, François Péron National Park and Hamelin Pool. Volunteers provide invaluable assistance with collecting data, which includes visitor numbers, sites visited, activities undertaken, length of stay and levels of satisfaction.
Monkey Mia is an example of how tourism research has contributed not only to the visitor experience, but to the conservation and welfare of the area’s wild dolphins.
- Surveys monitoring visitor satisfaction with the dolphin interaction experience are used to measure visitors’ understanding of the reasons why the interaction must be strictly controlled and managed. The results help develop ways to adjust or improve the delivery of visitor information and interpretation.
- Research conducted on the impacts of tourist boat interactions with offshore dolphins helps protect dolphins from over-disturbance.
- Research demonstrating the effects of provisioning (feeding) wild dolphins has had a considerable impact on the local and international management of dolphin-focused tourism.
World Heritage branding
A unique World Heritage brand has been developed to unify the image of the World Heritage Area for the many land managers and stakeholder groups. The aim of the branding initiative is to increase the local community’s knowledge and pride in the World Heritage Area and promote Shark Bay’s values to visitors to the region.
Central to the new brand is the World Heritage Area logo. Inspired by Shark Bay’s striking coastline, the logo is a representation of Gutharraguda (“two waters”), the Malgana Aboriginal people’s name for Shark Bay.