This morning we went out in a glass bottom boat for a tour of Coral Bay. Coral Bay sits between the coastline and Ningaloo Reef. From the shore you can see white-capped waves breaking against the reef, but the bay itself is tranquil and calm and relatively shallow.
It didn’t take us long to realise how Coral Bay got its name. A large percentage of the bay floor is completely covered in coral. The names of the different corals are linked to familiar shapes – staghorn, cauliflower, cabbage and brain coral, for example. Unfortunately a large proportion of the corals in the bay are currently smothered in brownish-green algae, the outcome of a coral spawning event in March this year that went wrong. The coral spawn used up an extraordinary amount of the oxygen in the water. This led to a fish kill of about massive proportions – about 16,000 dead fish washed up on the beaches, including Bill’s Bay, where we are staying. Coral died in similar proportions to the fish. Weather conditions trapped the decaying material inside the bay, whereas normally it would be flushed out to sea. Conditions were just right for the brownish-green algae to smother the coral. Authorities are hopeful that nature will restore the balance in time, but for now tourists will have to make do with viewing coral that does not display the range of colours we would expect.
Our boat went to one part of the bay which is dubbed ‘The Aquarium’. This part of the bay escaped much of the damage done by the coral spawning, so you can see the proper coral colours. There was more marine life here than we saw elsewhere too. No doubt the cleaner, healthier corals were attractive to the many fish species we saw.
One particular coral structure, known as a bommie, is over one thousand years old. It is essentially a large, white, circular coral community. It rises nearly four metres from the sea floor and is about eight metres across. Locals call it Ayer’s Rock. There are fears for its health following the coral spawning event.
We were lucky enough to see a large turtle swimming amongst the corals beneath us, although I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo. The tour of the bay only lasted an hour, but we learnt a lot in that time and would recommend it to anyone coming to Coral Bay.
In the afternoon we walked up to a lookout with a view over the beach, then waded out into the shallows for a while. Rod and Cornie joined us after a while. Large fish swam around our ankles, including the speckled emperors we had seen from the glass bottom boat. It was a good way to cool down at the end of a very warm June day.