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Ningaloo is Australia’s largest fringing barrier coral reef, one of longest in the world and the only fringing reef on the western side of a continent. The Ningaloo coast has been named a world heritage site for its marine and terrestrial flora, fauna, natural forms and cultural value. A master management plan is in place to protect these features for the future and specific areas included in the ‘Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and Muiron Island Marine Management Area Plan’ include coral reef communities, seabirds shorebirds and migratory wader and mangrove communities. Effectiveness of management is dependent on various factors exclusive to the area.
Ningaloo reef consists of 217 species of hard coral, which are the most important element to the reef construction as they provide a basis for soft corals followed by all other organisms, which rely on them for food and shelter. The reef protects the shoreline from wave activity and consequent erosion while attracting tourists to the region. The management objective for coal reef communities states that it acts to ‘ensure diversity and abundance of coral reef communities in the reserves are not significantly impacted by human activities’. For the coral reef communities, each management strategy is key, medium or high priority and undertaken by Conservation and Land Management and aim to conserve the reef.
Anchor damage occurs in heavily used areas of the reef. The management plan outlines the strategy to ‘Implement a Mooring Plan, including the establishment and maintenance of public and private moorings, for the reserves in line with the MPRA/CALM Mooring policy.’ The plan comes after the entire Maud sanctuary zone was expelled of any boating activities, working exclusively from an intergenerational equity perspective. Bills Bay has been identified as an area of concern with localised damage to coral from anchoring, however Conservation and Land Management is choosing to work with intragenerational equity by installing designated moorings. Ideally the moorings would be installed and each vessel would use the designated areas, however it would be difficult to ensure this when there are limited areas of the reserve which prohibit anchoring and isolation would make it nearly impossible to enforce, thus it has to be questioned whether the financial input would, in the long run support the growing tourist maritime activities.
However, the strategy to ‘monitor coral communities in areas most at risk of mooring and anchoring damage and review effectiveness of anchoring restrictions in preventing coral damage’ allows for adjustment to the previous strategy over time and the assessment of whether or not tourist numbers are growing and following directed policy. This would mean enforcement in the form of officials would be required, increasing expenditure. Decisively, the strategy is necessary to give people an environmentally sound option to secure their vessels and ultimately with the education supplied to tourists anchoring restrictions will be obliged.
Mangrove communities support high biodiversity, particularly a favoured habitat for molluscs whilst harbouring films of microorganisms with attract many invertebrate species. Mangrove regions make up 33.4 hectares of the Marine Park area found in tidal creek systems. These areas are protected throughout the state under legislation however some areas of mangrove has been disturbed by trampling, mudcrabbing and groundwater extraction.
To curb this issue 1135 hectares of mangrove and mudflat area is labelled as sanctuary zone, where extracting flora and fauna is prohibited. In taking the approach of intergenerational equity and seeking Maintenance of Biological Diversity, This strategy will be effective in one sense; trampling and mudcrabbing will be kept to a minimum, as seen with other human exclusion zones. However, in another, this does not address the issue of groundwater extraction by the town of Exmouth which has led to mangrove-die off at Bundegai. To address this issue investigation is outlined in the management plan, yet to fix the problem correspondence would need to be made with local councils and may require extensive infrastructure changes. In doing so this would revert the hydrological cycle needed for the mangroves. In short, the management plan is effective in reducing human impact and conserving mangrove communities in most areas of the marine park but further correspondence is needed to address the issue of die-off at certain sites.
There are 48 species of seabirds, shorebird and migratory waders within the Ningaloo Reef area, some of which are endangered. Several sites such as Mangrove bay and Fraser Island are main rookeries for these birds. Australian agreements with Japan and China oblige the protection of 13 migratory birds while all birds are protected under legislation.
Long term targets aim to see no loss of these bird species and while there are no current major pressure identified. threats to birds include degradation of habitat, disturbance and entanglements by human activities, predation and pollution events. To manage this the plan highlights education, monitoring and research while excluding people from major nesting sites. Preservation of rookeries is of high priority and necessary to protect these fragile areas and maintain bird breeding populations and as no threats are currently major the management plan is taking the required precautionary approach while sustaining intergenerational equity by allowing recreational activity in most areas of the park adjacent to sensitive areas. Upholding the international agreements is achieved as outlined in the management plan by addressing education of park users who are the most influential to the protection of bird habitats. Researching distribution and abundance in the reserves allowing the plan to be altered in the future better cater for bird populations, their nesting sites and minimise human impact.
The Management Plan for Ningaloo and surrounding areas assess threats both minor and major. Although cost effectiveness and enforcement should be reassessed in the case of the installation of moorings, the ongoing evaluation of effected coral communities is vital and effective for placing other regulations. Most mangrove communities are managed well under the plan use the necessary measures to ensure maintenance of biological diversity in most areas. Seabirds, shorebird and migratory waders, under international agreements and state laws must be protected and the management plan efficiently ensures this. In these areas the plan maintains the ecological sustainable development model.
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