Q & A with Luke and Lannie Riley, Owners, Sail Ningaloo, Coral Bay, Western Australia.
Award-winning eco tour provider exploring the best of Australia’s Coral Coast since 2010.
PLEASE INTRODUCE US TO CORAL BAY AND THE NINGALOO REEF.
Coral Bay is a small and remote settlement where the Indian Ocean meets Western Australia. We are located some 120 km south of Exmouth. The town only really got going in the late 1960’s, and even today the year-round population remains only a few hundred residents. We are known for our warm temperatures without the humidity, our lovely sandy beach, and most of all, the internationally famous Ningaloo Reef which has been granted World Heritage status. Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s only fringing reef, it is over 300 km in length, and it protects our town from the ocean. The whole of Ningaloo Marine Park encompasses an interesting variety of interconnected habitats: fringing and patch coral reefs, soft sediment lagoons, mangroves, sea grass beds and coastal dunes. Visitors coming here will find our coast to be very relaxed and much less “touristy” than other places in Australia.
Most of our guests will fly into the Exmouth Learmonth Airport and then take transportation south. We do also receive some guests who are travelling through Western Australia with their campers/caravans.
HOW DOES THE NINGALOO REEF DIFFER FROM AUSTRALIA’S GREAT BARRIER REEF?
Barrier reefs are similar to fringing reefs in that they also border a shoreline; however, instead of growing directly out from the shore, they are separated from land by an expanse of water. This creates a lagoon of open, often deep, water between the reef and the shore. You have to travel by boat quite a distance out in order to reach the Great Barrier Reef. You cannot just go swimming off the shore to see corals, fish, and other sea creatures as you can here in Coral Bay.
Sadly, recent scientific studies have confirmed that the GBR faces a growing percentage of coral loss due to bleaching. This is a huge concern for Australia as well as the world. But thankfully the Ningaloo Reef remains in pristine condition. Two other differences to mention: we do not have a “stinger” season, and we don’t have crocodiles!
We have a permanent resident population of Manta Rays in the bay. The reef is also home to abundant species of tropical fish, marine turtles, dolphins, dugongs, and reef sharks. You can also observe hundreds of coral species. The migratory visitors are the Whale Sharks who come between March and July, and they are overlapped to a degree by the Humpback Whales who are here mostly between July and October.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN MARINE CONSERVATION?
Prior to moving to Coral Bay, Luke had multi-year experience in the Seychelles with several marine monitoring programs, and he served as team leader for two seasons. This involved research and tracking of Whale Sharks. For a time, he also worked on the Great Barrier Reef with identifying and monitoring of Manta Rays. Lannie is an experienced camping and hiking tour leader in Tasmania, the Red Centre, Northern Australia, and also worked as a snorkeling tour leader on the GBR. Once moved to Coral Bay, she worked as coordinator for the Ningaloo sea turtle nesting and monitoring program.
Everything! Front and center would be our sailing vessel, Shore Thing. This is a customized 51-ft. large catamaran with four main cabins plus a bunk cabin. There is a wind turbine and solar paneling in addition to the sails, so we don’t use much fuel to get about. We stay within the bay meaning there are no worries about choppy waters or getting seasick. We have outstanding crew members who serve as skippers, dive instructors, and also gourmet cooks! While other local tour companies can take you out on the bay for the day, we exclusively offer multi-day excursions where you dine and sleep onboard. You may be woken at night by the sounds of whales breathing nearby at the water’s surface, or you might be sipping your morning coffee when a group of manta rays show up, next thing you know you’re in the water snorkeling among them. We think these are special experiences.
SO WHO ARE YOUR GUESTS?
The majority of our clients are from Australia. That’s followed by a good number of guests from Western Europe – UK, Germany, France, Switzerland. We do get a few Americans and some others.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOUR PACKAGES?
Our clients usually request either a 4 day/3 night trip or a 6 day/5 night trip. On occasion a group will book a 10 day/ 9 night tour. We also have a new 7 day/6 night option.
The boat can accommodate 8-10 guests per outing. Our two stateroom cabins feature a king or twin beds (one can also become triple share) and have a private ensuite. Our deluxe cabins feature a double bed and have shared facilities.
WHEN ARE YOU THE BUSIEST?
We operate from early March through late December; we are busiest between late March and late August. Often for peak periods guests will book a year in advance to avoid disappointment. That said, sometimes there may be cabins available at the last minute, so we would advise travelers to always check availability with our office.
[Note: March - August covers the fall and winter seasons in the southern hemisphere.]
Fresh linens, towels, sunscreen products, snorkeling and diving gear. We prepare and serve all meals and beverages. We provide an introduction to the reef and its marine life, answer questions, give snorkeling and diving tips, even offer diving instruction for an additional charge if requested.
WHAT ABOUT DIVING CERTIFICATION?
Most of our guests who want to dive come already qualified. As mentioned, we can offer PADI courses on the boat if it is requested, which are generally undertaken through e-learning. This involves completing some theory online prior to their holiday and then in-water dive skills with our dive instructor. We can also conduct Discover Scuba Diving courses for guests that would just like to try out scuba diving. There is an additional charge for dive courses.
We use “Organic Care” bathroom products which are readily available in Australian stores. These products are biodegradable, plant-based, free from parabens (which makes them safe for allergies and sensitive skin), and they come in a 100% recycled & recyclable bottle. In fact, some of our guests write to us later saying they are now using this brand at home. There are other suitable biodegradable sunscreen brands on the market as well. Sunscreen is known to affect coral reef health, so choosing a natural, chemical-free and water-resistant sunscreen is highly recommended. It is best applied to the skin 20-30 minutes before swimming to allow your skin to absorb it. Otherwise it may just wash off.
PLEASE EXPLAIN YOUR CARBON-NEUTRAL EFFORTS.
Sail Ningaloo offsets 100% of our carbon footprint through reforestation schemes. Shore Thing relies primarily on renewable sources of energy. We have maintained an Advanced Ecotourism certificate since inception and more recently participated in Climate Action certification. Both of these programs are made available through Ecotourism Australia.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE GUESTS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
Our goal is to provide guests with a world-class ecotourism experience. Given small groups, we are able to tailor each trip to individual interests and expectations. We hope they will gain an understanding and share our passion for the Ningaloo Reef as a result of our interpretative guidance. Perhaps they will share their new stories with others back home and will return in the future with friends.
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