Have you ever imagined swimming with whale sharks? A March or April visit to the Muiron Islands and the Ningaloo Reef off the coast of western Australia may give you that chance. This extensive fringing coral reef is one of the few readily accessible places where these giant but gentle fish can be found in large numbers at predictable times of the year.
And March/April on the Ningaloo Reef offer another unique experience if you time it just right – the annual coral spawning. One way that many corals reproduce is by releasing both eggs and sperm into the water at the same time, where they unite to become “planula larvae” and rise towards the surface where the currents carry them to new places for them to start forming new colonies. This spawning can be a visually dramatic event since most corals of a large reef do it all at the same time – raising a huge visible cloud of the gametes, creating an iridescent glow in the water, and attracting many snorkelers and divers to the spectacle. It is not however, entirely predictable. On the Ningaloo Reef it generally occurs from a week to 10 days after the full moon in March and again after the full moon in April. And the best viewing time is apparently somewhere between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The Muiron Islands are a popular dive spot for other reasons as well. They are part of a marine management area that protects one of the region’s most beautiful and biologically diverse underwater wilderness areas. One of the most popular dive spots, Cod Hole off of South Muiron Island, is a deep water limestone reef known for the large potato cod that congregate there together with thousands of goldbelly cardinalfish. Also eye-catching here are the colorful coral cod and giant manta rays. Another popular dive spot is known as “The Spit” – a rocky ledge with a large number of swimthroughs – teeming with baitfish and frequent shark sightings. The coral in the area varies in color from bright yellow to shades of red and pink, ranging from soft corals to hard corals and sponges, and large waving sea fans. Also often seen in the area are dolphins, olive sea snakes, dugongs, migrating whales and, of course, whale sharks. In November, the shores of the Muiron Islands are used as one of the main breeding grounds for loggerhead sea turtles, while green sea turtles and leatherbacks are also seen.
Do keep in mind, though, that all of this wonderful biodiversity does come with a price. The area is prone to unpredictable sea conditions, strong currents, large swells and strong winds. This often results in visibility while diving of less than 10 meters, and makes it a little less tempting for inexperienced divers.
The two Muiron islands are a short boat ride from the city of Exmouth, at the northern end of the Ningaloo Reef. The islands are sand cay style with large rocky headlands on the west coast, sandwiched between deep water on the west and the Exmouth Gulf on the east. They have no permanent residents, and therefore no lodging, but you can camp there if you obtain an appropriate permit. The white sand beaches and tropical waters, together with the privacy of only a small number of campers, can provide an idyllic “get away from it all” adventure for some. Others may prefer to stay in Exmouth and take a day trip over to the islands. Before traveling from Exmouth to the Muiron Islands, be sure to take some strong seasick medication – it’s normally a fairly rocky ride!
You’re not going to find luxury resorts out here near the Muiron Islands and Ningaloo Reef, but you will find some of the most amazing snorkeling and diving opportunities – especially in March or April.