Snubfin dolphin in Roebuck Bay, Western Australia © Alex Brown / MUCRU / WWF-Aus

Snubfin dolphin in Roebuck Bay, Western Australia © Alex Brown / MUCRU / WWF-Aus

Roebuck Bay Marine Park

  • dolphins
  • kimberley
  • marine protected areas

WWF has long recognised the worldwide importance of Roebuck Bay. For more than a decade we’ve collaborated with the local community, Yawuru Traditional Owners and scientists to guarantee it the highest level of protection.

We applaud Yawuru Traditional Owners and the Western Australian Government for coming to joint management arrangements for the creation of the Yawuru Nagulagun/Roebuck Bay Marine Park. In banning gillnet fishing in the bay, Yawuru Traditional Owners have also had a profoundly positive impact not only on its biodiversity but also the local fishing economy.


But as exciting as it was to create a jointly managed marine park, we’re concerned that it doesn't go far enough. By not including sanctuary zones in the draft management plan, Roebuck Bay’s biodiversity remains at risk from future dredging and dredge spoil dumping, seismic testing and large-scale aquaculture currently allowed within the marine park. Along with dozens of concerned scientists and local businesses, more than 7,200 WWF supporters last year sent submissions on the proposed Yawuru Nagulagun/Roebuck Bay Marine Park Indicative Management Plan expressing their concerns and calling for a sanctuary zone to be included. Without these changes, Yawuru Nagulagun would become the only marine park in WA’s oceans without a sanctuary zone, leaving our unique snubfin dolphins, turtles, dugongs and many other species at risk from multiple threats.



There is clear scientific evidence that no-take zones are important for biodiversity conservation, generating greater biodiversity outcomes than partially protected general use zones...

Letter sent to Premier Barnett (dated 16 June 2014) by 32 concerned scientists who work in Roebuck Bay, outlining why the Roebuck Bay Marine Park requires sanctuary zones.


     ‘Threadies’ (threadfin salmon) don’t move much

  • Threadfin salmon and barramundi live in one area for most of their lives. There are two different genetic stocks of bluenose salmon just within Roebuck Bay.

  • Fingerling threadies display ‘natal homing’, which means they find the creek they were born in despite being swept around by big tides. So if lots of threadies are born in the finger creeks (little tidal creeks) they will live there as adults.


     Habitat protection

  • Unlike Crab and Dampier Creeks, with high boat traffic, finger creeks have so little boat traffic they still contain holes, channels and big snags essential for fingerlings (young, small fish) to hide in at low tide. A sanctuary prescribes continued low boat traffic and preservation of these intact structures and therefore guaranteed nurseries.


     Habitats connectivity

  • A sanctuary that covers mangroves, mudflats and sub-tidal deepwater provides fish with protection at any tide.
  • Threadies and barra love shallow water (this is where the food is) and move in and out at the edge of the tide. This means that most would remain in a sanctuary.


     Removing fishing pressures

  • Peak fishing pressure occurs around high tide, when boats can get across the vast shallow mudflats to the creek mouths where fish congregate.

     Australian marine park evidence

  • At low tide, even if fish move out of a sanctuary, there is no fishing pressure.


  • Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park contains 24.4% sanctuaries in a very similar environment to Roebuck Bay. If recreational fishers believe sanctuaries won’t work in a high tidal environment like Roebuck, why have government scientists put large sanctuaries at Eighty Mile? Because they work.

  • A Ningaloo study showed that more than 60% of spangled emperors moved out of sanctuary zones and close to the beach, where they are regularly caught, yet the sanctuaries still contained twice the number of legal-sized fish. So even if fish move out of sanctuaries or poaching occurs, they still work.

  • Moreton Bay (Queensland) sanctuaries in mudflat/mangrove habitat have been found to have up to 17 times more mud crabs than fished areas. Mud crabs move in and out of these sanctuaries in a very heavily fished area and yet they still work.

  • Rottnest Island crayfish are up to 34 times more abundant in the region's small sanctuaries and yet they seasonally migrate out of sanctuaries into deep water and are exposed to fishing pressure.


         Future increased fishing pressure

  • There were 1,700 recreational fishing boats registered in Broome in 2011. By 2031 the WA Dept of Transport estimates that there will be 4,600 registered boats, almost tripling the fishing pressure in 20 years.

  • In 2012, there were over 4,000 fishing boat licences in Broome alone. If every Broome licence holder catches their bag limit of threadfin (king and blue) once a year, that’s equivalent to the previous commercial gillnet catch. In other words, the pressure of overfishing in the bay continues to grow.



  • Present Waiting for a final management plan from the Western Australian Government and Yawuru Traditional Owners. We hope it will contain a sanctuary zone but there is little chance of this as Yawuru voted for the current draft management plan (no sanctuary zone) as it stands.

  • Next step Work with the Western Australian Labor Party so that when they get into office in March 2017 they review the plan and add a sanctuary zone.

  • Continue working with the current government and advocating a sanctuary zone in Roebuck Bay Marine Park.

Our past work

We have worked on snubfin dolphins in the bay since 2006 and undertake monthly surveys with Yawuru managers and support scientists to protect this threatened species. We've helped to rid the bay of commercial gillnet fishing, the primary threat to the dolphin, campaigned to establish the Roebuck Bay Marine Park, and educated the public about the dangers of boat strikes.

Interesting fact: The Australian snubfin dolphin has an unusual fishingstrategy in Roebuck Bay. It spits water to distract the fish it ishunting.

{{thankYouPopup.firstname}} {{thankYouPopup.lastname}}

Thank you for your {{thankYouPopup.isMonthly ? 'monthtly' : ''}} donation of ${{ thankYouPopup.amount }}

Please check your email for confirmation


If you have any questions about your donation, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly Supporter Services team either by email: or call 1800 032 551

Share this page with your friends and family to help endangered animals even more.