Rowley Shoals: Everything you need to know

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Just when you think you’ve got Western Australia covered, something incredible and almost otherworldly appears.

It’s incredibly difficult to get to, and for that reason alone has flourished into one of the world’s most spectacular coral reef ecosystems, a place that remains relatively untouched by the grubby mitts of man and things like over-fishing and global warming.

Rowley Shoals is a place the majority of us probably won’t be able to get to, and that’s probably a good thing:

What is it?

Rowley Shoals is a group of three coral reef atolls a few hundred kilometres off the coast of Broome, featuring shallow lagoons filled with diverse coral reef systems and an abundance of marine life. Each atoll covers around 85km, rising up out of the depths almost vertically, to the point where it creates a waterfall effect over the edges at low tide. The three main reefs are called Mermaid, Clerke and Imperieuse.

Where is it?

The Rowley Shoals Marine Park is about 260km west of Broome, and as such is only accessible via a multi-night cruise from one of a few operators embarking from the popular tourism town. A boat trip will generally take around 12 hours to get out there.

Rowley Shoals Map

What to do:

Enjoy some of the most spectacular snorkelling and diving you’re likely to find anywhere in the world! The Mermaid Reef Marine Park, managed by the Australian government, prevents any fishing, while the other two reefs are managed by the WA government and also have strong fishing restrictions.

That doesn’t mean you can’t fish, but in areas where you can there’s a lot of catch and release programs enforced. These intense restrictions have created a marine ecosystem like no other, and as such Rowley Shoals is home to an undersea world alive with more than 200 species of coral, and almost 700 fish species. You’ll also find large marine animals like sea turtles, manta rays, whales, dolphins and even reef sharks.

One of the more spectacular experiences you’ll enjoy is coral reef drifting, which will let tides and currents pull you through channels in the reef while you just enjoy the undersea views.

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In terms of operators, low volume luxury tour operators True North are one of the best options, and their Rowley Shoals itinerary looks a-mazing. Their 5-night, 6-day itineraries are serious bucket list business – you’ll be guided by marine biologists and underwater naturalists as you dive and snorkel through maze-like lagoons and surging tidal canyons. Keen fishers can take on huge blue water pelagics like black marlin, sailfish and wahoo, you’ll see tropical birds and enjoy sunset drinks on the beach 300km from shore!

What not to do:

Expect to pull in a huge feed: Recreational fishing is allowed but only within very strict zones, and even regardless of this there are some species which must be returned back to the water if caught. It’s imperative you talk to the Department Of Fisheries before exploring Rowley Shoals if you’re doing so outside of a licensed tour.

Drop anchor anywhere: Once again if you do go there on your own vessel, it’s important to know the area including moorings. Dropping anchor is illegal, and there is only a certain number of moorings available for visitors – contact Parks & Wildlife Broome to find out more.

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Image Credit: The Kimberley Australia