Happy 5th anniversary to Exmouth’s King Reef – a thriving fish habitat just five years after placement on the seabed

Five years ago, all that was there was the barren sandy seabed. 

Today, the area is teeming with vibrant colour, exotic coral and hundreds of marine species, including an array of fish species like trevally, coral trout, cod and mangrove jack.  

What has caused this dramatic transformation? The deployment of the six large, repurposed steel structures and nearly 50 concrete purpose-built modules that makes up King Reef – the fastest developing artificial reef in Australia! 

This latest spectacular video footage by underwater photographer Violeta J. Brosig from Blue Media Exmouth captures the rich biodiversity that has grown on the reef and seen the number of fish species observed on the reef rise to more than 100.  

In 2018, a collaboration between Recfishwest, the Exmouth local community, DPIRD, BHP, NERA, Subcon and Curtin University resulted in King Reef – the first integrated artificial reef deployed in the southern hemisphere covering an area of 27,000m³ – roughly the area of five footy ovals.  

With ongoing support from Woodside Energy, the reef has rapidly transformed the area from an underwater desert into a marine oasis with coral trout, bluebone, spangled emperor, red emperor, mangrove jack, cod, Spanish mackerel and even sailfish seen patrolling around the reef.  

An array of species are now commonly sighted by locals and tourists, spicing up the fishing opportunities and species diversity throughout the Gulf. 

Exmouth Tackle and Camping owner Steve Riley, who was instrumental in turning vision of a repurposed reef in Exmouth Gulf into a reality, said it provides great fishing for fishers in small boats.  

“King Reef is a very easy and accessible spot to fish and it’s brimming with life, so it’s perfect for small boat owners to get out for a fish,” he said.  

“Our record time for reaching the reef, having a troll and having two Spanish mackerel in the boat is seven minutes, that’s how good the fishing has become there!  

“Red emperor, amberjack and Rankin cod were barely reported at all throughout Exmouth Gulf before King Reef’s deployment, now these species are trickling outwards from the structure in great numbers and snorkelers have reported seeing red emperor in only four metres of water within the Gulf. It’s an unexpected, but welcome surprise.”   

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “King Reef is a perfect example of how repurposed structures like these can quickly create productive, abundant underwater habitats. It is a huge credit to the Exmouth community and all our partners who have helped bring this dynamic reef system to life. 

“Deploying habitat enhancement structures like King Reef is an internationally recognised and scientifically proven method to increase the productivity of our oceans. We are looking forward to seeing more of the structures creating new vibrant marine habitat like this in other parts of WA in the near future.” 

Check out more stunning imagery captured by Blue Media Exmouth below, showing the thriving fish and coral reef communities!  

Keeping Gascoyne wilderness fishing gems pristine and industrial-free

With more than 150,000 tourists visiting Exmouth each year, you can guarantee that a majority of them are intent on wetting a line in Exmouth Gulf – and for good reason.  

From bluewater speedsters – queenfish and trevally, to creek-dwellers – mangrove jack, cod and coral trout to hard-fighting cobia shadowing gliding manta rays – you could spend a month fishing the Gulf and have a different story to tell each day. 

As mentioned in our recent article on Exmouth Gulf’s magnificent wilderness fishing, the Gulf is home to one of WA’s – and Australia’s – best fishing destinations cherished by local fishers and visitors who flock to Exmouth every year alike. 

However, some of the pristine environment that supports these amazing fishing experiences could be under threat from two industrial development projects planned for Exmouth Gulf – namely the proposed Gascoyne Gateway Port and the K+S salt project.  

Here’s what we know about these two developments so far and how they could potentially impact the Gulf’s ecosystems and beyond.  

Gascoyne Gateway Port

Planned for construction around 10km south of Exmouth town, Gascoyne Gateway is a port and jetty planned to extend around 1km in length into the sheltered waters of the Gulf.  

It’s a potentially imposing landmark that would require significant dredging of seagrass beds and nearshore limestone reef, which play a crucial role in providing shelter and nursery grounds for many marine species such as squid, turtles, dugongs and hundreds of fish species that thrive in the Gulf.  

An artist’s impression of the Gascoyne Gateway jetty and port design situated 10km south of Exmouth township near Qualing Pool. Image source: Gascoyne Gateway website.

The proposed development is being promoted on the Gascoyne Gateway website as ‘providing the Exmouth Gulf’s existing marine traffic with a better place to berth’ including tourist and navy vessels. However, it would result in a higher volume of large shipping traffic coming in and out of the Gulf, potentially making navigation for trailer boats challenging as they head to prized fishing spots such as King Reef, the Shoals or the Muirons. 

The increased shipping traffic could also potentially displace the 40,000-plus humpback whales, which grace the waters of Exmouth Gulf between June and the end of October each year for mating and calving. It’s one of the world’s largest known annual humpback congregations and the breaching mammals often put on a spectacular display enjoyed by thousands of boat-fishers who venture into the Gulf.  

Land-based fishers could also be impacted from wetting a line around the proposed port and no guarantees have been given at this stage that fishers will have access to fish off the jetty structure if the development goes ahead.  

While construction was initially planned for 2024, with the port operational by 2025 according to the Gascoyne Gateway website, that estimated timeline would likely be pushed back substantially if Government approves the project.  

Exmouth Gulf’s pristine waterways are teeming with species of fish that anglers travel long distances to battle with, including permit, golden trevally, queenfish, cobia and mackerel to name a few. Photo credit: Mark Davis.

K+S Salt Project

The world’s largest salt company – German-owned K+S Salt Australia – is planning to construct a salt mine 55km north-east of Exmouth and 40km south-west of the township of Onslow.  

The proposed project – dubbed the Ashburton Salt Project – is 52 times the size of Kings Park! 

While the proximity of the salt mine to Exmouth and Onslow might not ring alarm bells for locals, the negative flow-on effects of constructing this site on an already fragile ecosystem certainly does.  

A project of that size – around 21,000 hectares – requires a significant amount of habitat removal.  

The flow-on effects could have dire consequences on the 120,000 hectares of wetlands and mangroves situated on the Gulf’s eastern side.  

Not only are these mangroves teeming with species that fishers love to chase such as mud crabs, mangrove jack and countless others, but they are the life source for the vibrant marine life found in the Exmouth Gulf that is also crucial for supporting the 260km-long Ningaloo Reef stretching down the mid-WA coast.  

The roots and trunks of these specially adapted trees provide shelter for the spawning and refuge of hundreds of species of fish, rays, prawns and crabs.  

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will make an environmental assessment and recommendation on whether the K+S Salt Project can go ahead, with the WA Environment Minister making the final call on proceedings. The EPA is currently taking comments from the public on this project. 

The mangrove system in the Exmouth Gulf is crucial for providing shelter, food and spawning grounds for countless animal species, which underpins the Gulf’s world-class fishery. Photo credit: Blue Media Exmouth/Violeta J. Brosig.

A history of rejection

As has been the case numerous times in WA’s history for large-scale industrialisation projects in the Exmouth Gulf, environmental impacts and the potential repercussions on recreational fishing have not properly been factored in by developers– which has contributed to many previous projects being quashed. 

Recfishwest Operations Lead Matt Gillett said, “Recfishwest is not opposed to projects that benefit regional towns, but they must not hinder the access or sustainability of fishing experiences in the region. These factors should be built into developers’ proposals for any projects like this before they even consider submitting them to Government. What’s at stake here is simply too precious to do otherwise.  

“The Exmouth Gulf is one of the best fishing destinations in the world and is a very special place for tens of thousands of fishers each year. It is crucial that both project parties understand that any negative impact on fishing in this area will simply not be acceptable. 

“A public environmental review of the K+S Salt Project is now open until September 4 and it is crucial that fishers have their say to express what is important to them. Recfishwest will ensure no stone is left unturned in this process and will continue to meet with traditional owners, community members and decision makers to protect this world-class fishery at all costs.”


A gulf in class – Scott Coghlan on the magnificent wilderness fishing on offer in Exmouth Gulf

It’s one of WA’s great fishing destinations and if you truly want to sample wilderness fishing at its best without having to go too deep off the grid – head no further than Exmouth Gulf.   

With its fish-rich shallow waters, mangrove-lined creek system, numerous shoals and scattered reefs, the fishing and wilderness experiences on offer in Exmouth Gulf are world-class. 

Exmouth Gulf is one of the State’s great accessible wilderness fishing areas and is the envy of sportfishers from around the country.  

There is nowhere else quite like it in WA. It’s a place where we can cast a line for a wide range of species from bluewater speedsters to creek-dwellers, while seeing grazing dugongs, lazy turtles and gliding manta rays, or while enjoying the spectacle of dolphins and whales putting on a show in a pristine environment. 

It’s a superb fishing location and the natural attractions are part of what makes this place so treasured by both local and visiting anglers. 

The Gulf has come under threat recently from industrial development, and Recfishwest has, and will continue to do all we can to ensure we can all continue to enjoy what the Gulf has to offer and protect the values that matter most to fishers. We trust we can count on your support in the future to help us protect what’s important to our community. 

With many of you heading north, we asked Western Angler Editor Scott Coghlan to profile the Gulf and the fantastic fishing available for those making the trip – not too far out of town.  

Here’s what Scott had to share with us: 

Something for everyone

I’ve been lucky enough to fish the Gulf for many years now and it is just an absolute delight to be able to spend time exploring its margins, from Exmouth south to Giralia, and then up the east coast towards Onslow. 

It offers a wide range of fishing opportunities to please just about every fisho, from shore, boat and, as we have found, kayak. 

From the shore-based giant trevally at Oysters, to the coral trout and mackies of the shoals, to the queenfish, trevally and even permit of the flats, the whiting off the beaches, through to the mangrove jack, cod and crab of the creeks, and even billfish at times, there is something for everyone.  

There are beaches to walk, islands to explore, rocky points to traverse, oyster stacks to drift past, shoals to fish on and sandy cays that emerge on certain tides, all with resident fish and other marine animals around them. 

Big brassy trevally are often found on Gulf shoals.

Kayak fishing heaven

Much of my time at Exmouth in recent years has been spent exploring the eastern side of the Gulf around our base at the Wilderness Island camp, which is just about heaven on earth for keen sport fishers. 

Usually fishing in kayaks, we’ve enjoyed some amazing action on a surprisingly diverse range of species given the distance limitations with kayaks.  

Almost always in shallow water around the flats, we’ve caught big Spanish mackerel, longtail tuna, cobia, massive giant herring, countless queenfish and even barramundi, as well as golden, giant and brassy trevally.  

Metre-plus queenfish are a Gulf staple, this one caught by Matt McCarthy.

For the avid fly-caster, we’ve also seen prized permit and blue bastards, along with reef dwellers such as cod, coral trout and spangled emperor. When we head up the creeks, we find countless mangrove jack and cod, as well as mud crabs. 

Gliding silently about at a leisurely pace in kayaks, we’ve had incredible encounters with grazing dugongs and whirling manta rays, while constantly surprising big rays and cruising turtles. It always amuses me how turtles will slowly surface right next to the kayak, unaware you are there, look around lazily to check the coast is clear, and then react with extraordinary surprise at our presence. 

Squid are never far away and a walk along the beaches can produce anything from hordes of whiting, flathead and bream to big queenies, trevally and barra that are cruising the margins. 

Even if the bigger fish aren’t playing, light tackle fishing with bream gear along the shallows can be awesome fun, as it is often a fish a cast for small stuff like whiting, little trevally, flathead and bream. 

It is a similar story around the islands in the Gulf, where almost all the same species can be found, often in huge numbers on the right stage of the tide. And just about any rocky point, sand bar or outcrop will have fish lurking around it as long as there is enough water for them to get there. 

A huge giant herring for Glenn Edwards off the yak.

Easy beach access 

The Exmouth side of the Gulf is a similar story, with shore fishing opportunities for all the same species from the southern end to northern tip. Bay of Rest is a popular spot, especially for jacks and mud crabbing. 

The Learmonth Jetty is great for families, producing both bread and butter species and bigger fare, even turning up some very lost Australian salmon a few years ago! 

The beaches south of Exmouth are easy to access and walk, and can be dynamite for whiting, bream and flatties, while the marina and connected canals is another great family fishing spot. It holds some big jacks, loads of cod and bream, and plenty of small trevally and queenies at times. The outer walls often produce bigger queenies and there have seen Spaniards and even a sailfish caught inside there. 

Walking the shore during a break from the kayak paid off for Glenn Edwards.

The biggest flathead I have ever caught was on fly at the boat ramp! You can also pop into the Exmouth Game Fishing Club of an evening and grab a feed while enjoying one of the best sunset views going around. 

Just north of town, Old Bundegi can produce golden trevally and queenfish for shore anglers, while near the top of the Gulf, Oysters is famed for big GT’s from the shore and a range of other species including queenies and mackerel. 

For those with boats, the Gulf possibilities are almost endless. Although it’s not a particularly deep area generally and indeed a lot of it is very shallow and requires some navigational care, the shoals that rise out of deeper water hold plenty of different species. 

At times, golden and brassy trevally are thick and can easily be found by their surface activity, and there are always pelagics like Spanish and school mackerel, and longtail tuna patrolling them. Bottom fishers will pick up coral trout, spangled emperor and cod, and even the odd black jewfish shows up. 

At the top of the Gulf, bait often aggregates late in the year and draws sailfish into the area, offering some incredible shallow-water billfish excitement unlike nothing else in WA. 

Closer to the town marina, King Reef – the artificial reef deployed by Recfishwest – has become a fish magnet for a wide range of species, not the least of which are some huge golden trevally that will test any angler. 

Precious and unique  

Exmouth is most famous for its bluewater fishing out from the incredible Ningaloo Reef, but the Gulf is a precious and unique fishing location with an allure all of its own, and especially for lure casters like me. 

 In recent years, the Gulf has been recognised as a fishing destination of immense value, including attracting fly-fishers from across the globe to target permit. The more you explore the Gulf, the more you find – its waters hold many angling surprises and boasts a superb range of fishing options to suit all styles of anglers and every level of experience.  

Not only that, but it’s also relatively protected from the weather than can affect the west coast and can offer a great alternative when conditions at Ningaloo are no good for fishing, although don’t think it doesn’t get rough, as the combination of wind and short chop can be horrific! 

I love spending time in Exmouth Gulf and maintaining access to this unique part of the coast for recreational fishers should be of vital importance to not just local and visiting anglers, but anyone who has ever enjoyed casting a line in WA.

Fishing on foot in front of the camp at Wilderness Island.

Industrial development threatens the gulf’s unique fishing experiences 

As we reported back in September 2020, a major proposal were shelved to build a pipeline construction and loading facility in the south-west corner of Exmouth Gulf, right next to some of the most popular fishing spots of Wapet Creeek and the Bay of Rest.

Industrialising a place of wild beauty and highly valued wilderness fishing opportunities like the gulf seemed to be a ridiculous proposal to Recfishwest and many members of the fishing community.

Subsequently, Recfishwest submitted our objection to this development through the EPA process, and with many other organisations taking a similar view,  the proponent for the project decided not to proceed. This means that for, now at least, the wilderness fishing experiences offered in that part of the gulf are protected. 

It’s no time for complacency, however, as there are two other developments currently proposed for Gulf waters that we are keeping a close eye on. One is a solar salt development on the eastern side of the Gulf, the other a proposed jetty and port facility south of Exmouth township. Both of these developments could have significant impacts on fishing experiences in the area.  

Recfishwest is continuing to monitor these projects as they progress toward gaining the relevant approvals. We will keep you updated during these processes and ensure that your views are put forward when decision-makers are asked to judge these developments. In the meantime, stay updated through our newsletter, website and social media channels to keep up to date. 

UPDATE: Proposed Exmouth Gulf Development to Undergo Public Environmental Review


Proposed Exmouth Gulf Development to Undergo Public Environmental Review

A fortnight ago we brought you news that Subsea7, in agreement with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) resubmitted a revised application to build a pipeline construction and launching facility south of Exmouth. We believed this proposal should be assessed through a Public Environmental Review (PER) which would provide the community with the opportunity to have their say on the proposal.

Photo credit: Exmouth Fly Fishing

We wanted to keep you updated on this issue as Exmouth Gulf is a unique and extremely important fishing location for West Australians.

We are pleased to inform you that on Tuesday the EPA announced its decision to undertake a Public Environmental Review of Subsea 7’s application. This level of assessment ensures the highest level of scrutiny and transparency during the assessment period.

The EPA received 2498 public comments, of which 2359 called for a full public environmental review. We know a great many of these submissions came from passionate recreational fishers. It’s great to see such a high level of engagement over a proposal in such an important fishing area.

Recfishwest holds concerns over any activities that are not compatible with the amazing wilderness fishing opportunities that the Gulf provides.  Our concerns at this stage focus on ongoing public access to the coast, environmental changes that impact fish populations, pipeline launching operations that impacts on fishing activities and a general increase in industrial activities within Exmouth Gulf.

We appreciate those that took the time to write in during the consultation period. We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of this proposal, including further opportunities to comment.

For further info about the proposal, visit the EPA website here: http://www.epa.wa.gov.au/proposals/learmonth-bundle-site

29th May 2019

Subsea7’s Revised Exmouth Gulf Proposal

Photo credit: Ningaloo Fly Fishing

Subsea7 in agreement with the Environmental Protection Authority  recently withdrew an application to build a pipeline construction and launching facility south of Exmouth.  This happened after it was decided amendments to the original plan constituted a significant change.  One of these significant changes was an increase in planned seabed disturbance within the Exmouth Gulf from 1ha to 1,465ha.

Last week week Subsea7 re-submitted a revised proposal to the EPA that allows for the expanded footprint and increased seabed disturbance. The EPA is currently seeking comment on whether or not they should assess this proposal and, if so, what level of assessment is considered appropriate.

The three most common levels of assessment undertaken by the EPA for any application are:

  • Referral Information (RI) – where a proposal is assessed without the need to prepare an (additional) environmental review document.
  • Environmental Review (ER)– no public review – where an environmental review document is prepared but there is no public comment period.
  • Public Environmental Review (PER) – where an environmental review document is prepared and is available for public comment.
Photo credit: Ningaloo Sportfishing Charters

The EPA had previously decided to assess this proposal at the level of a PER. Given the new proposal contains an increase in planned seabed disturbance, Recfishwest can see no reason why the proposal should not once again be assessed at a PER level.

We will be urging the EPA to assess this project through the highest level of review (PER process) to ensure recreational fishers have plenty of opportunity to provide input.

Recfishwest have met with Subsea 7 on multiple occasions regarding this project and we will continue to talk to Subsea 7 and relevant stakeholders to get a better understanding of the proposed development’s impacts.

For further information about the Subsea7 proposal click here.

Photo credit: Ningaloo Fly Fishing