Hamelin Station Reserve – our place on the edge of one of the 'World’s Natural Wonders'

on 29 May 2017 

“We’re the gateway. We’re the buffer. We’re in this together.” These were just some of the key messages that I, and my fellow Bush Heritage staff from Hamelin Station Reserve, shared with members of the Shark Bay World Heritage Advisory Committee when we met with them in Denham last week.

We also had an opportunity to demonstrate this connection in real life when we hosted a field trip to our outstanding Hamelin Reserve by the Committee.

The Shark Bay World Heritage Area (WHA) was first inscribed in 1991, and is one of only 21 WHAs on the planet that meet all four of the natural diversity criteria. Think Galapagos, Yosemite, Great Barrier Reef – and – Shark Bay!!

The four natural diversity values are:

  1. Outstanding example of an ongoing geological process – shaping of the seabed by seagrass, supporting one of the largest dugong populations in the world.
  2. Unique and superlative natural phenomenon – hypersaline marine waters and the life it supports.
  3. Outstanding example of a unique stage in Earth’s evolutionary historystromatolites of Hamelin Pool.
  4. Important habitats where threatened animal species still survive – endangered terrestrial species that no longer occur on the mainland, Australia’s largest nesting population of Loggerhead Turtles, and many other important species.

Erica Suosaari (Bush Heritage Science Fellow), Larissa Lauder (Hamelin Reserve Field Officer) and I attended the Committee meeting as Observers, and learnt a great deal about the ongoing management challenges of the WHA.

One particular concern of course, is climate change. A catastrophic heat wave in the summer of 2010-11 caused a massive die-off in seagrass, from which the sea grass beds – the largest in the world – have not yet recovered. This could have serious consequences for Shark Bay’s World Heritage values and marine life, if sea temperatures continue to rise and the fragile ecosystems experience more heat waves as a result of climate change. It was a sobering reflection on how global issues can impact locally.

We presented an update to the Committee on our plans to build an International Science Centre at Hamelin, and our ongoing actions in transitioning the land use of the property from a pastoral sheep station to a conservation reserve. And then it was time to take the Committee on a field trip out to the Stromatolites of Hamelin Pool for an, as-always, fascinating guided tour by Erica.

Erica did her PhD on the Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. She continues her internationally recognised Stromatolite research as part of her role with Bush Heritage. Erica brings the Stromatolites, and their importance to life on earth, to vivid life on her boardwalk tour, and the Committee was fascinated and inspired by the experience.

Did you know, for example, that Stromatolites are the reason why we’re all alive today?! Before the micro-organisms that make Stromatolites existed, the air was only 1% oxygen. Then, for two billion years, our photosynthesising Stromatolite microbacteria pumped oxygen into the oceans (like underwater trees, before trees existed). When the oceans’ waters were saturated, oxygen was released into the air, and with around 20% of oxygen in the air, life was able to flourish and evolve. Now here we are - billions of years later.

From the Stromatolites, our touring party moved-on to the Hamelin Outback Station Stay, where we led them on a walk through the facilities and had a discussion about our priority management actions this year. These included: collecting information on birds, mammals, reptiles, feral animals and plants; destocking the property of goats and sheep; and, turning-off water points. Finally we were all treated to a delicious lunch provided by our wonderful Station Stay staff – Jackie, Denise and David – before we said goodbye to the WHA Committee.

Hamelin Reserve’s 202,000 hectares add an impressive 10% of area managed for conservation purposes to the WHA, and directly borders Hamelin Pool where many of the Stromatolite formations occur. Being part of the WHA Advisory Committee meeting brought it home to all of us what a privilege it is to be able to contribute to the WHA in this way, and how important it is for us to continue to wisely manage Hamelin Station Reserve.