Ningaloo Marine Park habitat map

Posted on 24 November 2011

  • Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation
  • Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation

A habitat is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular species of plant or animal.  Ningaloo Reef is a fringing reef that supports a high diversity of fish, corals, invertebrates, and algae in a diverse range of habitats.  Besides the iconic whale sharks, whales, manta rays, and the fish living in the water column (pelagic zone), the majority of organisms on coral reefs live attached to the seafloor (reef substratum), which forms part of the benthic zone.

Benthic habitat mapping is critical to improve our understanding of ecosystem dynamics and relationships between biota and habitats.  Without details of the benthic habitats located in the Ningaloo Marine Park, resource managers are poorly equipped to make decisions about the effects of different activities on habitats within the Marine Park.

The primary goal for habitat mapping is therefore to accurately identify the spatial location, extent and characteristics of differing habitats on the seafloor.  Benthic habitat maps thereby provide important information for managing marine resources – including the management of fishery habitats, Marine Protected Area planning, aquaculture development, and environmental assessment of coastal development proposals.

As such, the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation developed a shallow-water marine habitat classification scheme covering both the tropical and temperate regions of the West Australian coast.  Approximately 20% of the Ningaloo Marine Park (State Waters) is coral reef (intertidal and subtidal), which represent 2 of the 11 benthic habitat categories found within the Ningaloo Marine Park (State Waters) (Table 1; see Google Earth layer below).

Table 1.  Benthic habitat classification and descriptions adapted and summarised from Bancroft (2003).  See Bancroft (2003) for detailed habitat descriptions.



Pelagic Located in > 50 m depth; dominated by life in the water column, including pelagic fish, pelagic invertebrates, zooplankton and phytoplankton. 
Mixed filter feeding community Located in the subtidal zone; typically experiencing high water motion; high diversity of sessile invertebrates, including sponges, ascidians, gorgonians, bryozoans, sea pens, soft and hard corals; macroalgal turf, coralline algae, sand, and bare reef pavement may be present in areas of reef not occupied by the filter feeder community.
Coral reef communities (subtidal) Located in the subtidal zone; includes the upper seaward reef slope, sheltered back reef, deep lagoonal reef, and bommie clusters; high live coral cover with macroalgal turf and coralline algae covering areas of reef not occupied by living corals; sand patches, bare pavement, and rubble may be present.
Coral reef communities (intertidal) Located in the intertidal or shallow regions (< 1 m) on a limestone substrate; includes the reef crest, shallow reef fronts, reef flats and shallow back reef zones; live coral cover varies; macroalgae, sand patches, bare pavement, and rubble may be present.
Bare reef Located in subtidal areas with either sedimentary, igneous or metamorphic substratum, either as pavement or boulder (> 25 cm) fields; typically bare but macrolagae, or sparse invertebrates, including sponges, octocorals, soft corals, and ascidians.
Macroalgae (limestone reef) Located in subtidal areas with sedimentary, igneous or metamorphic substratum of low or high relief; may incorporate mobile sand patches, and scattered isolated soft and hard corals; generally is covered in large fleshy macroalgae or macroalgal turf, (< 100 mm thallus height); invertebrates, including sponges, ascidians, gastropods, seastars, brittle stars, sea urchins, soft corals, and rock lobsters present.
Sand Located in subtidal areas; predominantly white carbonate sand (0.1 - 2 mm grain size) substrate, which is constantly being moved by currents or wave action; typically bare, but seagrass, macroalgae, and invertebrates, including scallops, seastars, and sea urchins may be present.
Shoreline reef Located in the intertidal zone; includes low (< 5 m high) and high (> 5 m high) cliffs, boulders (> 25.6 cm particle size), or pavement of sedimentary, igneous or metamorphic substratum; algal turfs, and invertebrates, including molluscs, barnacles, and crabs present.
Mudflat Located in the lower intertidal zone; typically broad and occur in areas of low energy and high deposition; generally consists of terrigenous mud, silt or clay (< 62.5 μm) sediments; typically bare of vegetation, but invertebrates, including gastropods and crabs present.
Mangal Areas of mangrove forest (> 0.05 ha) typically is located in the upper intertidal zone; substratum comprised of mud and silt; invertebrates, including gastropods and crabs present.
Salt marsh Located in the upper intertidal zone of low energy coastlines; substratum comprised of muddy or silty terrigenous sediment; often landward of mangals, tidal creeks and estuaries; vegetation, including saltwater couch and blue-green algal mats, and invertebrates including gastropods and crabs present.

For more information or to request a copy of the habitat classification report, contact the corresponding author, Kevin Bancroft.


Dataset details

Custodian Mr Kevin Bancroft
Owner institution Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation  (
Spatial extent Bundegi (21° 52' S, 114° 10' E) to Red Bluff (24° 01' S, 113° 25' E)
Data collection May 2009 to January 2010
Copyright Copyright remains with the data owner(s)
Reference Bancroft KP (2003).  A standardised classification scheme for the mapping of shallow-water marine habitats in Western Australia.  Marine Conservation Branch, Department of Conservation and Land Management, Report MCB-05/2003.  Fremantle, Western Australia.

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