Exploring Australia's Shell Beach


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On the North West Coast of Australia is a unusual beach quite unlike anywhere else. The coastline here is entirely covered, not with sand, grit or pebbles, but seashells.

The dazzlingly white beach in Shark Bay is entirely composed of little white shells. What is even more impressive is that it stretches for some 60 kilometers and in some areass the shells are seven and even 10 meters deep. The natural phenomenon is extremely rare and there are only two beaches like this in the world.

How was it formed?

How was it formed?
Daniel Timothy Allison

The seashells all come from just one species of mollusk, who thrive in the bay due to two factors. Firstly, Shell Beach is located in L'Haridon Bight in the inner most part of the horseshoe bay. There's a huge seagrass bank that blocks the tide, it's the largest one in the world in fact. Secondly, the area has double the level of salinity than the Indian Ocean just outside this is due to a climate with less precipitation than evaporation. So the ground and water is saturated with the salt leftover from evaporation. This "hypersalinity" is due to the Australia's hot climate and low levels of rainfall, the west of the country is the most affected with around 70 percent of the land and 50 percent of the water considered overly saline.

Billions of seashells line the shoreline

Billions of seashells line the shoreline

Most wildlife can't tolerate a very high salt content of land or sea, but it's ideal for the Shark Cockle (Fragum erugatum). So, the hypersalinity of the water and the seagrass bank puts off any potential predators that would reduce the numbers. Unhindered, the cockles were free to breed and live out their happy lives burrowed in the sediment on the shallow ocean bed, then wash up on the sea shore. The cockles are a few millimetres long but today billions of shells line the coastline.

This process has been going on for thousands of years and the sheer volume of cockle shells piling up on the beach over time compresses and forms into a type of limestone called coquina. In the past, the locals in the nearby town Denham, packed the shells and cut them into blocks, using them to build houses, restaurants and churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, this practice has since been discontinued after Shark Bay was awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 1991.

And the sharks?

And the sharks?
Andrea Izzotti

Overall, Shark Bay is an area of exceptional natural beauty and it covers a total area of 2.2 million hectares. The marine life at Shell Beach is somewhat limited because of the reasons previously mentioned, but Shark Bay has a large and diverse ecosystem. It is home to 23 species of endemic mammals and five species of endangered mammals including the hump-back whales and the bottle nose dolphins.

As for the name, it was coined by an English explorer who came here in 1699. He took note of the shark infested waters and named the place "Shark's Bay" in honour of these majestic fish. More than 320 species of fish live here, including a several species of sharks... But if that doesn't put you off, there are regular flights from Perth to Shark Bay Airport.

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Xenia Evans
Posted on 16/07/2017 12 shares
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