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Where do you suppose you can find the oldest forms of life on earth?

Date: February 13, 2020 | By: Deborah Kilcollins | Category: Travel Blog

How about Shark Bay, Australia? This UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the coast of the state of Western Australia. Approximately 500 miles north of Perth, Shark Bay is home to one of the largest and most diverse seagrass beds in the world as well as the ancient colonies of microbial mats that form hard, dome-shaped deposits – these stromatolites are said to be the oldest life forms on earth. Stromatolites are scattered across the coasts of the world.

Some evidence suggests that about 1,000 years ago, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) began building up stromatolites in the southern part of Shark Bay. These stromatolites are modern counterparts of the earliest signs of life on Earth, with fossilized stromatolites being found dating from 3.5 billion years ago at North Pole near Marble Bar, in Western Australia, and are considered the longest continuing biological lineage. They look something like groups of broccoli standing, waiting.

Shark Bay also boast rich marine life including a large population of dugongs, nicknamed sea cows and are related to the manatees we are lucky to have along the coasts of Florida. In fact, the bay is area of major zoological importance. It is home to about 10,000 dugongs, some 12.5% of the world’s population. The dugong is the only sirenian in its range, which spans the waters of some 40 countries and territories throughout the Indo-West Pacific. The dugong feeds mostly on seagrass typically occurring in wide, shallow, protected areas such as bays, mangrove channels, the waters of large inshore islands and reefs. The northern waters of Australia between Shark Bay and Moreton Bay are believed to among the dugong’s few remaining strongholds.

Another popular resident is the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin. Some bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay exhibit one of the few instances we know of tool use in marine mammals (in addition to sea otters). They use a sponge to cover the nose for protection while foraging in the sandy sea bottom to feed.

The area supports 26 threatened Australian mammal species, over 230 species of birds and nearly 150 species of reptiles. More than 323 fish species, many of them sharks and rays, inhabit these waters as well as passing humpback and southern right whales when migrating. Bryde’s whales come into the bay sometimes to feed or rest and threatened green and loggerhead sea turtles nest on the bay’s sandy beaches. The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, gather in the bay during the April and May full moons.

Shark Bay became Australia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Area in Western Australia’s first world heritage listed area in 1991 because of the unique natural wonders. You can encounter the bay’s unique collection of marine life from shore, by snorkeling, swimming, diving, or from the deck of a boat. Enjoy fishing (outside sanctuary zones), windsurfing and swimming.

If you want to explore what Western Australia has to offer, consider our Australia Down Under Canvas adventure or we can help you craft your own including Shark Bay.

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