New port plans threaten the Ningaloo Reef in western Australia

WAs concerns about marine ecosystems and the health of the oceans grow worldwide, the news from Australia in particular continues to grow. Once again, the “Ningaloo Reef”, one of the largest fringing reefs in the world, famous as the home of the rare whale sharks and the jewel of the sustainable tourism industry, is in the spotlight of economic profiteers. The year 2020, it seemed, had ended so well for the representatives of Western Australian environmental protection: After a long tug-of-war between company representatives and local conservationists, the company had „Subsea 7“ withdrew his project of a pipeline through the Gulf of Ningaloo adjacent to the reef. Not just the environmental organization „Protect Ningaloo“, But also the Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had considered major damage to the reef and the wildlife there to be likely.

The reef is home to more than 200 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and other reef dwellers, including whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays, manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks. But the time to breathe a sigh of relief for the precious nature did not last long: Now a new building project is in the foreground, which has been part of the region’s up-and-coming economic considerations since 2019, but has now been targeted by authorities and investors: the so-called Gascoyne Gateway, a new deep-sea port near Exmouth, in the Gulf of Ningaloo and not far from the Marine Park, is expected to boost shipping traffic in the region.


Tourist attraction: a whale shark on the Ningaloo Reef
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Image: dpa

The new port is currently being examined by the environmental authority. It is intended to replace the “Exmouth Marina”, the town’s previous marine arrival and transshipment point, and to enable significantly larger ships to dock. The Gascoyne Gateway describes itself as the world’s first “green port” because it is supposed to combine ecological low-impact management with sustainable measures for maritime protection. For some only lip service that can hardly hide the usual economic character of the project; for others an opportunity that could make Exmouth one of the few examples of green economy.

Is it really a green deep-sea harbor?

First of all, the port is, above all, an enormous construction project. The core of this should be the inclusion of cruise ships. The previous boat harbor can only accommodate boats up to a length of 35 meters. Huge ocean cruisers have to anchor off the coast in the Gulf, and their guests have to be brought ashore on small boats. This in turn is heavily dependent on the weather and sea conditions. The not entirely uncomplicated journey has kept the flood of guests within limits so far. In the absence of mass tourism, as the Great Barrier Reef experiences in high season, the reef is comparatively untouched and the place is still an insider tip, at least among foreign tourists. This could change with a new port.

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