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Marine Conservation: a community stands up for Ningaloo and sets a precedent

The Ningaloo reef is located in Western Australia, about halfway up the coast between Perth and Broome. In near pristine condition, the reef is a 280 kms long habitat to hundreds of species of fish, corals and molluscs. The Wilderness Society worked with the local community to protect Ningaloo and set a national precedent on marine conservation.

The Ningaloo reef is unique in its beauty and diversity, but also in its closeness to shore, making it a special place where you can walk in on the beach, put your head under water and enter a 'marine rainforest'. Whale sharks depend on the reef, as do humpback whales who migrate with their calves twice a year through the reef waters.

At the beginning of this century a massive tourism development was proposed for the coast off Ningaloo.  This marked the beginning of marine campaigning for the Wilderness Society, as we could not stand idle in the face of the destruction of one of our most precious marine environments. Right in the heart of the reef, developers wanted to build a huge marina resort that would have had devastating impacts on the reef and its creatures.

Organising to defend Ningaloo included reaching out to people from all walks of life: surfers and divers, mothers and celebrities, activists and businesspeople all took a stand and helped save Ningaloo.  At the height of the campaign 15,000 people rallied in Freemantle. This event was so massive that by the time the people at the head of the march returned to their starting point, there were still people waiting to begin walking: 15,000 in fact circled Freemantle in support of Ningaloo!

The main goal of the campaign was to stop the development of a resort, but what we managed to accomplish was much larger.  After we secured the Ningaloo from this development, we continued to lobby and organise and work to get the WA government to implement regulations that would ensure sustainable rather than destructive development in the region. We also worked to increase the protected area of the marine park from 3% to 34%.  The Ningaloo campaign set a precedent and showed Australians that we can and must care for our marine environment as much as we do for our landscapes, and this increased level of protection was the first of many victories for our oceans.