Shell Beach Western Australia thanks to a single cockle

Shell Beach

Shell Beach

Shark Bay, midway up the coast of Western Australia is a World Heritage Site, and deservedly so, because this intriguing place is not only extraordinarily scenic, but has some very unusual characteristics which make it quite exceptional.

One of these distinctive natural attractions is Shell Beach, which is located about 45 kilometres south of the Shark bay’s main town, Denham.

Shell beach, as the name implies, is made up entirely of shells – although, from even a short distance it looks like the perfect, white sandy beach.  That’s because the shells which make up the beach are tiny, no more than 14millimetres in length, and they belong to just one type, a bivalve called the Hamelin Cockle, but also known as the Heart Cockle and the Cardiid Cockle.

This cockle has no known predators, and so thrives until it dies of natural causes.  It is a burrowing species of cockle which just loves the hyper saline (extremely salty) waters of Shark Bay, which are twice as salty as normal sea water.  The reason it has no predators is because it lives in waters that are too salty for other creatures to be able to survive in.

To further complicate matters, not only has this cockle no natural predators, and is able to survive in an extreme environment, but it has no food source; so it supplies its own.    It achieves this by having algae in its gills, from which it is able to use photosynthesis, like plants do, to generate energy, thus its food source, from the sun – and there is plenty of sunshine in Shark Bay.

The cockle is also a hermaphrodite, possessing both male and female sexual organs, and is believed to spawn once a year.

Cockle Shells

Cockle Shells

These cockles do die, and when they do, their shell is washed up onto the beach.  Occasionally, during big storms, the waves wash the shells further up onto the beach, extending both its width and its length, and it is believed that this process started about 4,000 years ago.

The dead shells look to be exquisitely white, but when you pick one up and observe it, you see that the shell is actually opaque.

Shell Beach is so impressive because there are trillions of these tiny shells which form a beach in L’haridon Bight that is 60 kilometres on length and, in parts, over a kilometre wide and ten metres deep.  It is a seriously big beach, parts of which are made up of dunes that are made totally from the cockle shells.  The porcelain white of the shells contrasting with the deep aqua colour of the water lapping the shores, make for a serene and extremely gorgeous sight.

There are basic facilities at Shell Beach, including some toilets and a car park.  Visitors are allowed to walk along the beach and swim in the waters, but there is definitely no camping (although you can camp in other parts of Shark Bay not far from Shell Beach).

Shell Beach is also part of Project Eden which aims to return the area to its ecosystem by ridding the area of feral and introduced predators and re-stocking the area with locally extinct native species.

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