Shark Bay, Western Australia

Country
Australia
Inscribed in
1991
Criteria
(vii)
(viii)
(ix)
(x)
The conservation outlook for this site has been assessed as "good with some concerns" in the latest assessment cycle. Explore the Conservation Outlook Assessment for the site below. You have the option to access the summary, or the detailed assessment.
At the most westerly point of the Australian continent, Shark Bay, with its islands and the land surrounding it, has three exceptional natural features: its vast sea-grass beds, which are the largest (4,800 km2) and richest in the world; its dugong (‘sea cow’) population; and its stromatolites (colonies of algae which form hard, dome-shaped deposits and are among the oldest forms of life on earth). Shark Bay is also home to five species of endangered mammals. © UNESCO
© Jim Thorsell

Summary

2020 Conservation Outlook

Finalised on
02 Dec 2020
Good with some concerns
The site has a "good with some concerns" conservation outlook, mainly pertaining to the past and predicted impacts of climate change (NESP, 2019). Most of the site's values are robust in the face of anthropogenic impacts, thanks to the site's relative inaccessibility, the appropriateness of the boundaries of the area, and overall effective management. Most of the site’s biodiversity values are maintained as outstanding, both in the marine and terrestrial environments, however some key marine species (esp. seagrasses) suffered severe impacts from a 'catastrophic' heat wave event in 2011 (Arias-Ortiz et al, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019). Two years after the event, leaf biomass showed some recovery, however below ground mass decreased (NESP, 2018).
Human disturbance, including from recreational activities, continues to be a threat, although visitation levels remain low and this threat is appropriately managed. Risks from climate change and invasive species require special consideration, in order to minimize potential future damage. Shark Bay’s most significant World Heritage values are its extensive seagrass beds, salinity gradient, stromatolites and species assemblages, including some species that are found nowhere else in the wild (NESP, 2018). In a changing climate, intensity and frequency of storms and extreme marine heat events are expected to increase and threaten the resilience of areas in Shark Bay and its values. The Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (SBWHAC) has identified the vulnerability of the site in response to future climate change as being a major issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).  In a 2018 assessment led by the SBWHAC, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area was awarded a 'HIGH' Climate-change Vulnerability Index (CVI) score on account of potential climate stressors, including extreme marine heat events, storm intensity and frequency, and air temperature change (NESP, 2018).
Building resilience for mitigation is seen as an important strategy for the conservation of Shark Bay, for example through the minimisation of key local threats such as "turbidity and nutrient inputs from flooding of poorly managed pastoral leases, release of bitterns from a salt mine, changes in the trophic dynamics of the system through overfishing or targeted fishing, and more local damage to seagrasses from vessel propellers and anchors associated with growth in tourism" (Arias-Ortiz et al, 2018).
Overall, while it can be concluded that many values remain well preserved, a deteriorating trend is noted for many important attributes, particularly in the marine environment, and future potential impacts of climate change appear to be a major concern, while other anthropogenic impacts are low and well managed.
 

Current state and trend of VALUES

Low Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
The site provides exceptional living examples of the earliest life forms on Earth in living stromatolites and microbialites, in a carbonate landscape and its hypersaline environments. These structures are in a good state and largely free of damage, however are becoming increasingly threatened by climate change as stomatolite growth is vulnerable to rising sea level and extreme climate events (Suosaari et al., 2016). Geographical isolation has provided areas where environmental circumstances have enabled species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas. The largest seagrass banks in the world also provide habitats for charismatic megafauna, especially dugongs, dolphins, turtles and sharks, as well as diverse genotypes in fish populations, sustainably managed. However, the seagrasses suffered a large scale dieback and defoliation during the summer of 2010/11 as a result of a marine heatwave event. For example, approximately 60,000ha of the Wooramel seagrass bed remained in 2016, whereas it was 81,000 ha just before the 2010/11 heatwave and 103,000 ha at the time of inscription in 1991 (Strydome et al., 2020; State Party of Australia, 1990). This might result in cascade effects on the entire ecosystem (Fraser et al., 2019; Arias-Ortiz et al., 2018).

On land, the site includes transition zones in the flora, and examples of speciation, as well as high numbers of endemic species. The isolation of fauna habitats on islands and peninsulas increase the likelihood of survival of marsupial species and overall the values of the site associated with its terrestrial areas are in generally considered in good to excellent condition.

Overall, the status of the values is assessed as of low concern, since many values remain well preserved, however, a deteriorating trend is noted for many values, particularly in the marine environment, and further loss of seagrass meadows would alter this overall assessment. Potential impacts of climate change on the site's values are of concern, and the site's vulnerability to future climate change has been identified as being a major issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).
 

Overall THREATS

High Threat
Other than the threats associated with climate change (such as increasing temperatures in the marine environment, ocean acidification, sea level rises, and flooding) and the impacts of past and predicted catastrophic marine heat wave events, the site’s World Heritage values are subject to relatively minimal threats. The robustness of its geological values and its effective management regime combine to minimize threats to its integrity. Similarly, the site’s biodiversity values, which are more sensitive to anthropogenic impacts, are managed and are subject to low level threats. Recent reintroductions of threatened fauna into the now feral animal free Dirk Hartog Island National Park have been successful and the programme is being expanded. Human disturbance, including from recreational activities, continues to be a threat, and although visitation levels are increasing this threat is currently appropriately managed. Commercial fishing, pastoralism and tourism are actively managed. Spread of existing invasive species and potential introduction of new ones will continue to be a risk and therefore will require continued management responses and a consolidated strategy.
The exception however, are the threats relating to climate change (Arias-Ortiz et al, 2018; NESP, 2019), particularly extreme heat wave events in the marine environment, such that which had a 'catastrophic' impact in 2010/11 (Fraser et al, 2014, 2019) which have a flow-on effect to biodiversity, especially seagrasses and associated fauna such marine turtles (Fraser et al, 2019). With regards the threats associated with climate change, the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (SBWHAC) has identified the vulnerability of the site in response to future climate change as being a very significant issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).  In a 2018 assessment led by the SBWHAC, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area was awarded a 'HIGH' Climate-change Vulnerability Index (CVI) score on account of potential climate stressors, including extreme marine heat events, storm intensity and frequency, and air temperature change (NESP, 2018). Shark Bay is predicted to experience recurrent severe heat stress events causing coral bleaching under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 between now and 2050 (Heron et al., 2017).

Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT

Mostly Effective
The protection and management of the site is overall effective. Management is supported by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee and is based on a number of management and strategic plans. Key issues and threats within control appear to be adequately addressed; however, efforts in some areas need to be increased, for example with regards to invasive species eradication programmes. Climate change is recognised as a significant major potential threat to the site, and is the focus of recent and ongoing work by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (NESP, 2018). It has been noted that despite Shark Bay being declared "as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change ... relatively little media attention and research funding has been paid to this World Heritage Site that is on the precipice" (Fraser et al., 2019). Researchers from the University of Western Australia, James Cook University and the University of New South Wales have stated that "Safeguarding Shark Bay from climate change requires a coordinated research and management effort from government, local industry, academic institutions, not-for-profits and local Indigenous groups – before any irreversible ecosystem tipping points are reached" (Fraser et al., 2019).

Full assessment

Click the + and - signs to expand or collapse full accounts of information under each topic. You can also view the entire list of information by clicking Expand all on the top left.

Finalised on
02 Dec 2020

Description of values

Most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolites – the oldest form of life on Earth

Criterion
(vii)
One of the superlative natural phenomena present in this property is its stromatolites, which represent the oldest form of life on Earth and are comparable to living fossils (World Heritage Committee, 2013). Analogous structures were the dominant benthic ecosystems on Earth for 3 000 million years. Their significance is due to their role in changing the earth’s atmosphere, by photosynthesis. The hypersaline environments of Shark Bay exclude many competitors, consumers and predators, enabling the survival of complex ecosystems in Hamelin Pool (Jahnert and Collins, 2012).

One of the world’s best examples of a living analogue for the study of the nature and evolution of the earth’s biosphere up until the early Cambrian

Criterion
(viii)
Shark Bay contains, in the hypersaline Hamelin Pool, the most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolites (hard, dome-shaped structures formed by microbial mats) in the world. The stromatolites of Hamelin Pool were the first modern, living examples to be recognised that have a morphological diversity and abundance comparable to those that inhabited Proterozoic seas. As such, they are one of the world’s best examples of a living analogue for the study of the nature and evolution of the Earth’s biosphere up until the early Cambrian (World Heritage Committee, 2013).

Seagrass banks of great geological interest

Criterion
(viii)
The Wooramel Seagrass Bank is also of great geological interest due to the extensive deposit of limestone sands associated with the bank, formed by the precipitation of calcium carbonate from hypersaline waters (World Heritage Committee, 2013).

Outstanding examples of processes of biological and geomorphic evolution taking place in a largely unmodified environment

Criterion
(ix)
Shark Bay provides outstanding examples of processes of biological and geomorphic evolution taking place in a largely unmodified environment. These include the evolution of the Bay’s hydrological system, the hypersaline environment of Hamelin Pool and the biological processes of ongoing speciation, succession and the creation of refugia. One of the exceptional features of Shark Bay is the steep gradient in salinities, creating three biotic zones that have a marked effect on the distribution and abundance of marine organisms. Hypersaline conditions in Hamelin Pool have led to the development of a number of significant geological and biological features including the ‘living fossil’ stromatolites. The unusual features of Shark Bay have also created the Wooramel Seagrass Bank. Covering 103,000 ha, it is the largest structure of its type in the world. Seagrasses are aquatic flowering plants that form meadows in near-shore brackish or marine waters in temperate and tropical regions, producing one of the world’s most productive aquatic ecosystems. Australia has one of the highest diversity of seagrasses globally, with 12 species occurring in the Bay (World Heritage Committee, 2013).

A range for many globally threatened species of terrestrial plants and animals

Criterion
(x)
Shark Bay is a refuge for many globally threatened species of plants and animals. The site is located at the transition zone between two of Western Australia’s main botanical provinces, the arid Eremaean, dominated by Acacia species and the temperate South West, dominated by Eucalyptus species, and thus contains a mixture of two biotas, many at the limit of their southern or northern range. The property contains either the only or major populations of five globally threatened mammals, including the Burrowing Bettong (now classified as Near Threatened), Rufous Hare Wallaby, Banded Hare Wallaby, the Shark Bay Mouse and the Shark Bay Bandicoot. A number of globally threatened plant and reptile species also occur in the terrestrial part of the property (World Heritage Committee, 2013).

Important marine habitats and species

Criterion
(x)
Shark Bay’s sheltered coves and lush seagrass beds are a haven for marine species, including Green Turtle (VU) and Loggerhead Turtle (EN) and the property provides one of Australia’s most important nesting areas for this second species). Shark Bay is one of the world’s most significant and secure strongholds for the protection of Dugong, with a population of around 10,000. Increasing numbers of Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales use Shark Bay as a migratory staging post, and a famous population of Bottlenose Dolphin lives in the Bay. Large numbers of sharks and rays are readily observed, including the Manta Ray which is now considered globally threatened (World Heritage Committee, 2013). Shark Bay is also an important breeding ground for a variety of fish species.
Important area for migratory birds
Shark Bay is a significant site for migratory birds. There are 40 species of waterbirds that are migratory and resident, 17 of these migratory waterbirds are listed under International agreements. In total there are 83 bird species (terrestrial and waterbirds) found within Shark Bay (Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia). More research is needed in this field (IUCN Consultation, 2014). 
 

Assessment information

Low Threat
Apart from potential effects from climate change, the site’s World Heritage values are subject to only minimal threats. The robustness of its geological values and its effective management regime combine to minimize threats to its integrity.
Human disturbance, including from recreational activities, continues to be a threat, and although visitation levels are increasing, this threat is currently appropriately managed. Climate change poses the largest threat to the site’s World Heritage values and it is expected to significantly increase.

 
Other
(Shark Bay Salt extraction)
Data Deficient
Outside site
Shark Bay salt activities can potentially change the salinity regime through bittern drainage and dredging (channel deepening). This occurs outside the boundaries of the World Heritage site, but marine ecosystems are highly connected. Furthermore, the impact on the loss of shallow breeding grounds for marine fauna and how this impacted other species (e.g., seabirds) including commercial fisheries is not known (IUCN Consultation, 2020b). 
Tourism/ visitors/ recreation, Other Activities
(Increasing human activity)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Impacts from human activities, including coastal recreational use and access, continue to represent one of the main threats to the property. Visitation rates remain relatively low (IUCN Consultation, 2017), however increased substantially in 2020 following the closure of the Western Australian border due to the Covid-19 pandemic (IUCN Consultation, 2020). Impacts from human activities include trampling of sensitive environments, hardening of shorelines and 4WD traffic over soft sediments. Degraded recreational sites and disused tracks are being identified and prioritised for rehabilitation (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Fire/ Fire Suppression
(Wild fires)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
The extent of the threat of fires is understood and whilst more hot days and warm spells predicted through climate change will make fire more likely, they are generally retarded by the high salt content in the local vegetation. Fire can have a detrimental impact particularly on species highly restricted in their distribution (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
(Introduced plants, animals and marine pests)
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
The Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions has established a conservation program to bring threatened native fauna species back from the brink of extinction by controlling introduced predators – the feral fox and cat and also introduced herbivores – mainly sheep and goats. Another programme -the Ecological Restoration Program (ERP), currently being carried out in Dirk Hartog Island National Park has eradicated introduced herbivores and feral cats from the 620 square kilometre island – the largest island in the world to be freed of feral cats. In the absence of cats, a successful fauna translocation programme is now being undertaken (IUCN Consultation, 2020). However, an eradication strategy for all introduced animals and pests threatening the values of the property is lacking (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
 
Temperature extremes, Storms/Flooding
(Extreme weather events)
High Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
The catastrophic 2011 marine heatwave  destroyed 1,310 square kilometres of seagrass (25% of the total coverage) (Strydom et al. 2020); harmed endangered species such as turtles and seasnakes; contributed to the temporary closure of the commercial crab and scallop fisheries (Kendrick et al. 2019); and released between 2 million and 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Arias-Ortiz et al . 2018)   – all potentially jeopardising Shark Bay’s World Heritage values. Intense Leeuwin Current flows, an extraordinary La Niña event and multi-decadal trends in the Pacific Ocean, overlapped to drive mean monthly sea surface temperatures up to 2-4°C above normal for a period of four months, causing an extreme ocean heatwave (The Conversation, 2014). The occurrence of this extreme heatwave overlapped with three floodings from the Wooramel River, within three months delivering over 500 gigalitres of floodwater containing large amounts of sediment into Shark Bay significantly reducing light availability (Fraser 2014). This combination resulted in the widespread defoliation of the seagrass Amphibolis antarctica which is the most extensive canopy-forming seagrass in Shark Bay (ECOS magazine, 2013). Seagrasses have contributed to the creation of large banks and sills across Shark Bay which in turn have led to a strong salinity gradient, and this in return has allowed the presence of one of the most diverse and abundant stromatolite populations in the world. Seagrass loss may impact the long-term stability of these banks and sills (The Conversation, 2014). Recovery has been slow with only an increase in seagrass cover of 120 square kilometres between 2014 - 2016 (Strydom et al. 2020), with the species Posidonia australis showing greater recovery than Amphibolis antarctica (Kendrick et al. 2019).
High Threat
Potential threats are mainly beyond the scope of management actions, including pollution, and those associated with climate change, particularly in the marine environment, such as increasing sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Building resilience for mitigation is seen as an important strategy for the conservation of seagrasses at Shark Bay – through the minimisation of key local threats such as "turbidity and nutrient inputs from flooding of poorly managed pastoral leases, release of bitterns from a salt mine, changes in the trophic dynamics of the system through overfishing or targeted fishing, and more local damage to seagrasses from vessel propellers and anchors associated with growth in tourism" (Arias-Ortiz et al, 2018). A 2018 workshop convened by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee classified Shark Bay as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019). Shark Bay is predicted to experience recurrent severe heat stress events causing coral bleaching under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 between now and 2050 (Heron et al., 2017).
Oil/ Gas exploration/development
(Existing petroleum exploration permits)
Very Low Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
Exploration permits exist but the area is classed as “not very prospective” (Fourqurean et al, 2012). Therefore the likelihood of petroleum exploration impacting the values of the stie is very low. 
Water Pollution
(Pollution)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Localised(<5%)
Outside site
A range of potential pollution sources exist which could impact on World Heritage values. Most areas are under management and the site has extensive anti-pollution regulations. Potential pollution sources include land – littering, agricultural pollution, groundwater pollution –  seepage of nutrients and chemicals, dust – mining and agricultural practices, marine pollution – sea dumping, bilge and ballast water, fuel, oil and chemical spills, hydrocarbon pollution, sewage, dredging and discharge of bitterns, atmospheric pollution - vehicle, industrial emissions, carbon dioxide levels or bushfires, as well as noise pollution (Fraser et al, 2014).
 
Fishing / Harvesting Aquatic Resources
(Fishing)
Low Threat
Inside site
, Scattered(5-15%)
Outside site
Increasing pressure on managed fish stocks is occurring worldwide, but is managed sustainably in Shark Bay at present. Closures to increase snapper stocks have been very successful in allowing populations to re-establish (MPRA, 2010). Pink snapper did increase under the fishing ban, but it has been widely reported (and possibly there are some data to support) that other species have declined (such as black snapper) (IUCN Consultation, 2014). It is important to understand the synergies between fishing and other events like marine heat waves. The effect of the 2011 Marine Heat Wave decimated commercial fisheries for blue swimmer crab, scallops and some fish species causing collapse of fisheries and multi-year closures but these fisheries have recovered since 2013-14 (Caputi et al. 2019). 
Fire/ Fire Suppression
(Fire risks)
High Threat
Inside site
, Extent of threat not known
Outside site
Fire risks are forecast to increase. Fire represents a significant threat to species that are highly restricted in their distribution, particularly populations which only survive on islands, where they could be severely affected or totally destroyed by a single large fire, especially from lightning strikes (Cowell, 2013). Appropriate management of fire is essential. Further knowledge of fire ecology and the requirements of species and communities is required (IUCN Consultation, 2017). Bushfire in rangelands depends highly on fuel availability, which in turn depends mainly on rainfall. Increased fire weather risk is expected in the future, due to higher temperatures and lower rainfall, but there is low confidence in the magnitude of fire weather projections (National Environmental Science Programme, Report No. 7, 2018).
 
Invasive Non-Native/ Alien Species
(Invasive species)
High Threat
Inside site
, Widespread(15-50%)
Outside site
Potential introduction of new invasive species will remain a risk and therefore requires constant monitoring and active management (Fourqurean et al. 2012). A weed management strategy is required to prevent the introduction of new invasive plants and manage the spread of existing plants (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Habitat Shifting/ Alteration, Temperature extremes, Storms/Flooding
(Climate change)
Very High Threat
Inside site
, Throughout(>50%)
Outside site
Effects of climate change will likely result in impacts on the site’s habitats, and ecosystems, as well as changes in salinity and nutrient levels which will directly affect Hamelin Pool and the stromatolites. Local conditions such as wind, erosion, cyclones and extreme tides will need to be monitored as they are likely to increase due to climate change. The Shark Bay area is in the transition zone between tropical and sub-tropical zones for many species of terrestrial and marine fauna and therefore vulnerable species and ecosystems are expected to experience significant effects, many of them detrimental (IUCN Consultation, 2017). Stromatolites are also becoming increasingly threatened as stromatolite growth is vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme climate events (Suosaari et al., 2016). A 2018 workshop convened by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee classified Shark Bay as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019). Shark Bay is predicted to experience recurrent severe heat stress events causing coral bleaching under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 between now and 2050 (Heron et al., 2017). The following implications of climate change in Shark Bay that can be predicted with a degree of confidence are: Increased average air temperatures in all seasons (very high confidence); More hot days and warm spells with a substantial increase in the temperature reached on hot days, the frequency of hot days and the duration of warm spells (very high confidence); Decreasing winter and spring rainfall (high confidence); More intense extreme short-duration rainfall (high confidence) with the wettest day of the year being wetter, and Rising mean sea level and increased height of extreme sea level events (very high confidence) (NESP, 2018). Severity and frequency of marine heat waves are also predicted to increase and 2019 austral summer marine temperatures were a concern for 2-3 months but did not result in an event like the 2011 Marine heatwave (Kendrick et al. 2019). 
Other than the threats associated with climate change (such as increasing temperatures in the marine environment, ocean acidification, sea level rises, and flooding) and the impacts of past and predicted catastrophic marine heat wave events, the site’s World Heritage values are subject to relatively minimal threats. The robustness of its geological values and its effective management regime combine to minimize threats to its integrity. Similarly, the site’s biodiversity values, which are more sensitive to anthropogenic impacts, are managed and are subject to low level threats. Recent reintroductions of threatened fauna into the now feral animal free Dirk Hartog Island National Park have been successful and the programme is being expanded. Human disturbance, including from recreational activities, continues to be a threat, and although visitation levels are increasing this threat is currently appropriately managed. Commercial fishing, pastoralism and tourism are actively managed. Spread of existing invasive species and potential introduction of new ones will continue to be a risk and therefore will require continued management responses and a consolidated strategy.
The exception however, are the threats relating to climate change (Arias-Ortiz et al, 2018; NESP, 2019), particularly extreme heat wave events in the marine environment, such that which had a 'catastrophic' impact in 2010/11 (Fraser et al, 2014, 2019) which have a flow-on effect to biodiversity, especially seagrasses and associated fauna such marine turtles (Fraser et al, 2019). With regards the threats associated with climate change, the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (SBWHAC) has identified the vulnerability of the site in response to future climate change as being a very significant issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).  In a 2018 assessment led by the SBWHAC, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area was awarded a 'HIGH' Climate-change Vulnerability Index (CVI) score on account of potential climate stressors, including extreme marine heat events, storm intensity and frequency, and air temperature change (NESP, 2018). Shark Bay is predicted to experience recurrent severe heat stress events causing coral bleaching under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 between now and 2050 (Heron et al., 2017).
Management system
Mostly Effective
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Parks and Wildlife Service is the lead Western Australian Government agency responsible for the management of the property. The Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee is in place and provides advice to the State and Commonwealth Governments with regard to the management of the property, research priorities and scientific basis of management principles and practices (IUCN Consultation, 2017). The Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee replaced the two previous Scientific Advisory and Community Consultative Committees with a committee consisting of community, scientific and Indigenous representatives (World Heritage Committee, 2013). Several plans are in place, including Shark Bay Terrestrial Reserves and Proposed Reserve Additions (Department of Environment and Conservation, 2012) and the Shark Bay World Heritage Property Strategic Plan 2008-2020, which provides direction for the management of resources across the Property (DEC, 2012).  Shark Bay has attracted international and domestic teams of scientists for nearly four decades and advisory committees have not taken full advantage of and supported this resource (IUCN Consultation, 2020b). Commercial operators should also be included in planning so that all stakeholders are knowledgeable and preferably in agreement.
Effectiveness of management system
Mostly Effective
Overall, management effectiveness is high. An Advisory Committee is in place, and management is supported by largely up to date management plans with the exception of the Shark Bay Marine Reserves Management Plan 1996-2006, which has yet to be reviewed and replaced (IUCN Consultation, 2020a).
 
Boundaries
Mostly Effective
Since inscription, Francois Peron National Park (53,145 hectares), Shell Beach Conservation Park (403 hectares), Monkey Mia Reserve (446 hectares), Monkey Mia Conservation Park (5 hectares), Zuytdorp Nature Reserve (additional 65,058 hectares), Nanga pastoral lease (176,464 hectares), part Tamala pastoral lease (56,260 hectares), South Peron (49,481 hectares), part Carrarang pastoral lease (19,445 hectares), Bernier, Dorre and Koks Islands Nature Reserves (9,781 hectares) and Dirk Hartog Island National Park (62,664 hectares) have been added to the conservation estate. With the designation of the Shark Bay Marine Park (748,735 hectares) in 1990, incorporating the Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve (132,000 hectares), the total formal conservation area of the World Heritage property is approximately 1.24 million hectares. In addition, the coastal portion of the Yaringa pastoral lease (19,415 hectares), part of Nerren Nerren pastoral lease (104,293 hectares) and part of Murchison House pastoral lease (37,673 hectares) have been added as a buffer. (World Heritage Committee, 2013).  The Shark Bay Marine Park (Commonwealth waters) is now under active management and provides for a buffer on the north-western boundary (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Integration into regional and national planning systems
Mostly Effective
Regional/local planning recognises World Heritage Area status and management (IUCN Consultation, 2020a).
Integration at the Australian Government level is via the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee (AWHAC).
 
Relationships with local people
Mostly Effective
The Shark Bay World Heritage Property Strategic Plan 2008-2020 was prepared to develop a partnership between governments and the community (World Heritage Committee, 2013).

The composition of the membership of the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (SBWHAC) ensures a good relationship with representatives of the local, indigenous and regional people.

On 4 December  2018, following a 20-year long legal process, the Malgana Aboriginal people were formally recognised by the Federal Court of Australia as having rights to approximately 28 800 square kilometres of land and waters in the World Heritage Area around Shark Bay. (National Native Title Tribunal, 2018). The Malgana have representatives on the SBWHAC.

An indigenous NESP program where Malgana indigenous rangers are initiating a seagrass restoration program has also been recently launched (Sinclair et al. 2020).
 
Legal framework
Highly Effective
The relevant Western Australian legislation includes the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 which provides for the use, protection, and management of certain State lands and waters. The Australian Government  Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important heritage places, including World Heritage sites  In Western Australia environmental impact assessments under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) are the main method of considering the environmental impacts of major developments which may affect World Heritage values (IUCN Consultation, 2017).

 
Law enforcement
Highly Effective
Enforcement of the relevant legislation is considered effective.
Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Highly Effective
No recent Decisions have been taken by the World Heritage Committee on this site.
Sustainable use
Mostly Effective
Acceptable levels of usage are in place (Suosaari et al, 2016).
 
Sustainable finance
Some Concern
The Australian Government currently provides a budget of AUD $140,000 per annum for five years from July 2018 for employment of a Project/Executive Officer and the conduct of the World Heritage Advisory Committee. All other funding for the site is via Western Australian Government agencies, or Non Government Organisations (IUCN Consultation, 2020a).
 
Staff capacity, training, and development
Mostly Effective
Staff training and development is conducted by the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions when required (IUCN Consultation, 2020a). Staff training and development have improved in recent years, but there is no wildlife officer in Shark Bay with authority. As such, DBCA staff cannot effectively respond to violations of the wildlife act (IUCN Consultation, 2020b).  

 
Education and interpretation programs
Mostly Effective
Good signage and brochures are in place. Interpretation materials are updated to reflect the most recent research findings (IUCN Consultation, 2020a). However, publicly available information beyond signage is lacking. There could be much stronger education and interpretation for visitors given the importance of Shark Bay for science and the wealth of scientific knowledge and published materials (IUCN Consultation, 2020b).
 
Tourism and visitation management
Mostly Effective
The Shark Bay Terrestrial Reserves and Proposed Reserve Additions Management Plan 2012 and the Shark Bay World Heritage Property Strategic Plan 2008-2020 both address visitor access issues with the objective of providing a range of access types and tourism opportunities that do not adversely impact on key values of the property (Dept. of Environment and Conservation, 2008, 2012). Most visitors come to Shark Bay to see the Monkey Mia dolphins and the local economy depends on this (Stoeckl et al., 2005). Yet, there are limited educational opportunities at Monkey Mia for tourists, despite the fact that most of what is known about wild dolphins comes from research in Shark Bay.  
Monitoring
Mostly Effective
Some effective monitoring of Shark Bay is in place for the marine reserves (Suosaari et al, 2016), however a systematic monitoring summary of OUV and relevant threats/management is not evident, other than research projects, dugong abundance and populations surveys every five years and various dolphin research projects.
Research
Highly Effective
High levels of research have been taking place in Shark Bay, with the profile of Shark Bay substantially raised by international research. In addition to a dedicated community of Australian scientists, there have been long-term research projects underway even before Shark Bay achieved World Heritage status. There are over 800 scientific papers published (Western Australian Marine Science Institution database). New scientific articles continue to be published on stromatolites (see for example, Babilonia et al., 2018; Collins and Jahnert, 2014; Suosaari et al., 2016; White et al., 2018); on seagrasses (e.g., Fraser et al., 2014; Kilminster et al., 2018); and climate change (e.g., Arias-Ortiz et al., 2019; Fraser et al., 2014; Mueller et al., 2018; NESP, 2018; Thomson et al., 2015).
The protection and management of the site is overall effective. Management is supported by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee and is based on a number of management and strategic plans. Key issues and threats within control appear to be adequately addressed; however, efforts in some areas need to be increased, for example with regards to invasive species eradication programmes. Climate change is recognised as a significant major potential threat to the site, and is the focus of recent and ongoing work by the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (NESP, 2018). It has been noted that despite Shark Bay being declared "as being in the highest category of vulnerability to future climate change ... relatively little media attention and research funding has been paid to this World Heritage Site that is on the precipice" (Fraser et al., 2019). Researchers from the University of Western Australia, James Cook University and the University of New South Wales have stated that "Safeguarding Shark Bay from climate change requires a coordinated research and management effort from government, local industry, academic institutions, not-for-profits and local Indigenous groups – before any irreversible ecosystem tipping points are reached" (Fraser et al., 2019).
Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Some Concern
With the exception of the impacts of climate change (e.g., extreme heat wave events in the marine environment, associated biodiversity loss, increasing ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and flooding), the site is not subject to significant threats originating from outside its boundaries – due in large part to its inaccessibility and the appropriateness of its boundaries. However, the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee (SBWHAC) has identified the vulnerability of the site in response to future climate change as being a major issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).  In a 2018 assessment led by the SBWHAC, the Shark Bay World Heritage Area was awarded a 'HIGH' Climate-change Vulnerability Index (CVI) score on account of potential climate stressors, including extreme marine heat events, storm intensity and frequency, and air temperature change (NESP, 2018).
Best practice examples
Feral cat and introduced herbivore eradication programs on Dirk Hartog Island (https://www.sharkbay.org/restoration/dirk-hartog-island-return-1616/).
World Heritage values

Most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolites – the oldest form of life on Earth

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
These structures are in a good state and largely free of damage. Stromatolites are largely stable geological structures, with many more subtidal habitats than were listed in the nomination document  (World Heritage Committee, 2013). Sediment flows in 2011 were of concern (La Niña events) with increased sediment runoff due to overgrazing in the surrounding catchments (MPRA, 2010).
Concerns about ocean acidification are largely beyond the scope of management, but Shark Bay will represent a stable natural laboratory for comparative purposes, strengthening its significance (MPRA, 2010).
 

One of the world’s best examples of a living analogue for the study of the nature and evolution of the earth’s biosphere up until the early Cambrian

Low Concern
Trend
Stable
Stromatolites continue to be in a good state and largely free of damage. Stromatolites are largely stable geological structures, with many more subtidal habitats than were listed in the nomination document (Cowell, 2013). Sediment flows in 2011 (MPRA, 2010) were of concern (La Niña events) with increased sediment runoff due to overgrazing in the surrounding catchments. Concerns about ocean acidification are largely beyond the scope of management, but Shark Bay will represent a stable natural laboratory for comparative purposes, strengthening its significance (MPRA, 2010).
 

Seagrass banks of great geological interest

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
Reserves are in generally good to excellent condition and are well managed (E. P. Suosaari et al, 2016). The La Niña event in 2011 raised temperatures and increased sediment run-off resulting in a reduction in seagrass leaf density and cover (McCluskey, 2008), especially at the mouth of the Wooramel delta. Risks of increasing frequency of such events with changes in global climate are projected for the future. The 2011 marine heatwave destroyed 1,310 square kilometres of seagrass (29% of the total coverage) (Arias-Ortiz, 2018, Strydom et al. 2020).  As a result, "many areas previously covered with large, temperate seagrasses are now bare, or have been colonised by small, tropical seagrasses, which do not provide the same habitat for animals" (Fraser et al, 2019; Kendrick et al. 2019). Freycinet Basin was particularly unaffected by the marine heatwave and therefore remains important for resilience against future climate impacts (Strydom et al., 2020).

Outstanding examples of processes of biological and geomorphic evolution taking place in a largely unmodified environment

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
The site’s internationally and nationally important biodiversity values, which are more sensitive to anthropogenic impacts, are affected mainly by very low threats (Fourqurean et al. 2012). The exception may be the seagrass banks which suffered a large scale dieback and defoliation during the summer of 2010/11 as a result of a marine heatwave event. Methods to restore the meadows are being explored (IUCN Consultation, 2017) and have resulted in an indigenous NESP program where Malgana indigenous rangers are initiating a seagrass restoration program (Sinclair et al. 2020). The dieback was estimated to be very significant in several regions of Shark Bay. This reduction in habitat quality resulted in impact on the entire ecosystem, including a decline in the health status of largely herbivorous green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the 2 years following the heat wave (Thomson et al., 2014) and losses in seasnake and dolphin populations (Kendrick et al. 2019). Two years after the event, leaf biomass showed some recovery, however below ground mass decreased (NESP, 2018). By 2016 some seagrass meadow recovery was observed (strydom et al. 2020), along with increases in shoot density in the seagrass Posidonia australis but not Amphibolis antarctica (Kendrick et al. 2019). After seven years, only part of the ecosystem showed good signs of recovery (Nowicki et al., 2017).

A range for many globally threatened species of terrestrial plants and animals

Good
Trend
Stable

The isolation of fauna habitats on islands and peninsulas increase the likelihood of survival of marsupial species, such as the Shark Bay Mouse, Banded Hare Wallaby, Rufous Hare Wallaby, Shark Bay Bandicoot, the Bilby and Bernier Island subspecies of Ash-grey mouse (Fraser et al, 2014). Reserves are in generally good to excellent condition (Fraser et al, 2014, Jahnert et al, 2012).

Important marine habitats and species

High Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
At this time there is a distinct difference in the conservation status of species between the marine and terrestrial environments. Marine species (e.g., seagrasses, dugongs, and turtles) are all under Western Australian legislation for the protection of wildlife, as well as Marine Park status (Suosaari et al, 2016), diminishing the risks to World Heritage values. Populations of these species were impacted by the 2011 marine heatwave that destroyed 25% of the region's seagrass coverage, which "in turn harmed endangered species such as turtles, and contributed to the temporary closure of the commercial crab and scallop fisheries" (Fraser et al, 2019).
Assessment of the current state and trend of World Heritage values
Low Concern
Trend
Deteriorating
The site provides exceptional living examples of the earliest life forms on Earth in living stromatolites and microbialites, in a carbonate landscape and its hypersaline environments. These structures are in a good state and largely free of damage, however are becoming increasingly threatened by climate change as stomatolite growth is vulnerable to rising sea level and extreme climate events (Suosaari et al., 2016). Geographical isolation has provided areas where environmental circumstances have enabled species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas. The largest seagrass banks in the world also provide habitats for charismatic megafauna, especially dugongs, dolphins, turtles and sharks, as well as diverse genotypes in fish populations, sustainably managed. However, the seagrasses suffered a large scale dieback and defoliation during the summer of 2010/11 as a result of a marine heatwave event. For example, approximately 60,000ha of the Wooramel seagrass bed remained in 2016, whereas it was 81,000 ha just before the 2010/11 heatwave and 103,000 ha at the time of inscription in 1991 (Strydome et al., 2020; State Party of Australia, 1990). This might result in cascade effects on the entire ecosystem (Fraser et al., 2019; Arias-Ortiz et al., 2018).

On land, the site includes transition zones in the flora, and examples of speciation, as well as high numbers of endemic species. The isolation of fauna habitats on islands and peninsulas increase the likelihood of survival of marsupial species and overall the values of the site associated with its terrestrial areas are in generally considered in good to excellent condition.

Overall, the status of the values is assessed as of low concern, since many values remain well preserved, however, a deteriorating trend is noted for many values, particularly in the marine environment, and further loss of seagrass meadows would alter this overall assessment. Potential impacts of climate change on the site's values are of concern, and the site's vulnerability to future climate change has been identified as being a major issue (NESP, 2018; Fraser et al., 2019).
 
Assessment of the current state and trend of other important biodiversity values
Data Deficient
Trend
Data Deficient
No information is available on the areas within Shark Bay considered important for migratory birds (IUCN Consultation, 2014).

Additional information

Carbon sequestration
The blue carbon stored as soil carbon under Shark Bay’s seagrass meadows is recognised on a global scale as a carbon hot spot (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Factors negatively affecting provision of this benefit
Climate change
Impact level - High
Trend - Increasing
The seagrass banks suffered a large scale dieback and defoliation during the summer of 2010/11 as a result of a marine heatwave event. The dieback was estimated to be very significantin several regions of Shark Bay. Two years after the event, leaf biomass showed some recovery, however below ground mass decreased (NESP, 2018). Longer-term recovery has been minimal (Strydom et al. 2020).
Tourism-related income,
Provision of jobs
Visitation numbers are increasing each year and tourism represents an important activity for the local economy (IUCN Consultation, 2020). However,
tourism can be greatly enhanced with greater educational efforts capitalizing on the extensive research and extraordinary features of Shark Bay.
 
Visitation numbers since the commencement of the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of the Western Australian border, have increased significantly during 2020. More tourists driving 4WD vehicles contribute to increased track formation throughout the area and due to many more recreational vessels, concern is being raised in regard to fishstocks and fish waste.
Importance for research
The site is an important area for research, both marine and terrestrial, as well as archaeological, but the wealth of research and its findings can be better communicated locally, nationally and internationally (IUCN Consultation, 2020b).
The Western Australian Marine Science Institution is currently compiling a Shark Bay Marine Science Plan and a research database.
Sacred natural sites or landscapes
Sacred Aboriginal Heritage Sites are located within the World Heritage site.
Fishing areas and conservation of fish stocks
The World Heritage site is contributing to maintaining fish productivity by providing breeding, spawning and feeding areas.
Factors negatively affecting provision of this benefit
Climate change
Impact level - High
Trend - Increasing
There is evidence of some fisheries (scallop) having been seriously impacted by the 2010/2011 heatwave (Mueller et al., 2018). Also Blue Swimmer crab fishery collapsed immediately after the 2011 extreme Marine Heat Wave (Caputi et al. 2019).
Outdoor recreation and tourism
Due to Shark Bay’s unique natural assets and pristine environment, it is increasingly becoming an important tourism destination.
The Shark Bay World Heritage site provides a wide range of benefits including ecological functions and ecosystem services. These include such benefits as wildlife protection and carbon sequestration, fishing and conservation of fish stocks, outdoor recreation and tourism, employment, scientific research, and cultural heritage values. Breeding conservation programs that are bringing back native species that have gone extinct on the mainland of Australia are another key benefit.
Organization Brief description of Active Projects Website
1 Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Parks and Wildlife Service Plant and animal research, particularly plant genetics. Dirk Hartog Island Ecological Restoration Project – eradication of feral animals and pastoral herbivores and reintroduction of native mammals.
www.dbca.wa.gov.au &nbsp;
2 Research organisations, e.g. UWA, CSIRO, WAMSI, Curtin University, Florida International University Ecosystem processes Shark research. Bottlenose dolphin research projects. Tiger Shark, turtle and dugong research. Seagrass ecology and restoration. Seagrass genetics and adaptation to extreme environments. Stromatolite research.
https://www.seagrassresearch.net/ https://mikeheithaus.com/research/shark-bay-ecosystem-research-
3 George Town University The Shark Bay Dolphin Research Project was initiated in 1984 and represents the most comprehensive study of wild dolphins worldwide. The team has published hundreds of papers and several books focusing on &gt;1800 dolphins studied over the years from birth to death. Dolphin behavior, genetics, ecology, social structure, reproduction, life histories and human impacts on the dolphins have been studied. As most visitors come to Shark Bay to see the Monkey Mia dolphins, this research has provided critical conservation messages to the public and supported DBCA efforts to manage the provisioned dolphins. Over 2 dozen wildlife documentaries have focused on the dolphin research and aired in &gt;80 countries.
https://dolphins.georgetown.domains/category/section/our-people
4 Australian Wildlife Conservancy Mammal re-introductions
https://www.australianwildlife.org/shark-bay-translocations-a-boost-for-threatened-mammals-at-faure-island-and-mt-gibson/
5 Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) Shark Bay Priorities Project
https://www.wamsi.org.au/news/shark-bay-priorities-update

References

References
1
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2
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3
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11
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15
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17
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18
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19
Mueller, U., Kangas, M., Caputi, N. (2018). Saucer scallop abundance hotspots and distribution patterns before and after an extreme heatwave event in Shark Bay Western Australia. Extended Abstracts of GeoENV2018 - Belfast, Northern Ireland. 4-5 July 2018.
20
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21
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22
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23
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24
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25
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26
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27
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28
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29
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30
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31
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32
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33
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36
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37
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