About the Mid West & Gascoyne

MurchisonriverinKalbarriNP1Murchison River at Kalbarri National Park. Flickr: cedrianna.Home to Kalbarri National Park and World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast, the Mid West and Gascoyne regions jointly cover a quarter of WA— more than 606,000 square kilometres. Both regions lay claim to WA’s famous ‘Coral Coast’ whose unique marine life, coral reefs and diverse coastline, attract numerous overseas and local travellers.

As a part of the Coral Coast, Ningaloo Coast has one of the longest near shore reefs in the world and its marine environment is home to many unique species including the whale shark. The area contains a high diversity of habitats including, estuaries, mangroves, sandy beaches, lagoon, open-ocean, continental slope and continental shelf. Ningaloo Reef itself sustains amazing marine flora and fauna.

World Heritage-listed Shark Bay, near Monkey Mia is an area recognised for its zoological importance due to its geographically isolated peninsulas and islands. As Australia’s western most point, Shark Bay is home to five of the country’s endangered mammals including the banded hare-wallaby, the Shark Bay mouse and the western barred bandicoot—all found on Bernier and Dorre Islands.  Green and loggerhead turtles nest on the beaches while dugongs, dolphins, manta rays, hammerhead and tiger sharks, humpback and southern right whales inhabit the waters.Turtlenearningalooreef1Green turtle at Turqoise Bay, Ningaloo reef. Flickr:ekieraM.

Stromatolites, primitive life forms that have existed for 3.5 billion years, are found in abundance at Hamlin Bay and are studied by scientists for their insights into the earth’s biological origins.  They are formed when cyanobacteria grows through sediment and sand to create successive layers which over time harden to resemble rock.

Aboriginal habitation of Shark Bay has been recorded as far back as 22,000 BP. Middon sites indicating ancient human populations and their food sources have been found, especially on Peron Peninsula and Dirk Hartog Island.  For thousands of years both the Mid West and Gascoyne regions have been home to many different groups of Indigenous people. Now, in the Mid West the Indigenous population is growing three times faster than the non-indigenous population.

Shark Bay is recorded as the first Western Australian site visited by European explorers.  Dutchman Dirk Hartog landed there in 1616 however ‘Shark Bay’ itself was named by Englishman William Dampier in the late 17th century.

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands off Geraldton are an environmentally and historically significant spot along WA’s coast. The Wallabi Group of the islands are the final resting place of the Batavia shipwreck. Remains of the ship can be seen in the reef and an exhibition at WA Museum Geraldton details the events of the 1629 shipwreck and the plight of those on board.

dishes big_300dpiAn artist's impression of the SKA dishes. SKA Organisation/Swinburne Astronomy ProductionsIn addition to hosting some of WA’s most treasured environmental assets, the Mid West & Gascoyne region is also at the forefront of science research. The Mid West will co-host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. The remote, ‘radio quite’ region is an ideal location for the revolutionary radio telescope.

Low frequency array antennas will be built in Murchison and New Zealand while the core site, made of thousands of radio-wave receptors linked across a central zone of one square kilometre, will reside in Southern Africa. Three thousand dish antennas, each about 15 metres wide will make up part of the array which will span across distances of 3,000 km from the centre zone.

The telescope will have 10,000 times greater potential than present-day instrument. It will give astronomers insight into the formation of the universe including the emergence of galaxies, the first stars, black holes and gravity theories. The international SKA organisation says, “The data collected by the SKA in a single day would take nearly two million years to playback on an ipod.”  The Murchison Radio-Astronomy Observatory is also the location for the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) and other international projects.

The regions also have significant opportunities for the renewable energy sector, with wind turbine farms, geothermal leases and solar driven solutions. With some of the highest solar indices in the country for photovoltaics or solar thermal plants, and ample land to develop bio-fuel resources, provision of renewable energy is becoming a reality.

Due to the size of the area, there are a range of climatic and environmental conditions throughout both regions. The management of biosecurity, salinity, introduced feral species and a drying climate remain challenging tasks.

The Mid West’s Gross Regional Product is third highest in WA behind the Pilbara and Goldfields. Its diverse economy is built around mining, agriculture, fishing and tourism. More than half of all agricultural income is derived from wheat production. Other agricultural industries include cereal and legume crops, livestock (predominantly sheep and cattle), and horticulture and aquaculture both on the coast and inland.Carnarvon FruitCrops1Fruit crops near Carnarvon in the Gascoyne. iStock

The Okajee Port and Rail project being developed 20 kilometres north of Geraldton is set to become the major deep water port in WA, capable of servicing the needs of the mining industry; in particular Mid West’s iron ore mines.

Along with a world-renowned crayfishing industry, the Mid West has the highest value fishing industry in Western Australia.  The Houtman Abrolhos reef supplies the highest catch of rock lobster in Australia.

The Murchison River, WA’s second longest river, flows from the Robinson Ranges west to meet the coast at Kalbarri National Park. It has attracted agricultural practice in the region since pastoral leases were exercised in the lower Murchison area in the late 1850s.

Tourism is the main economic driver in the Gascoyne region and it is estimated that it was worth $154 million in 2004-5, compared to agriculture at $56 million and fishing at $53 million.

There have been ongoing irrigation improvement works in the Gascoyne with the aim of improving land for agricultural use. Currently the region produces a range of vegetable and fruit crops, livestock, and exports salt and gems. The State Government’s Gascoyne Food Council and the Gascoyne Food Bowl Initiative are measures which will help advance food security in the region.

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