Sunday, September 18, 2005

WA Coast day 2

The Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay

This morning started early - we set off at 7am every day, so get all those stereotypes about lazy backpackers out of your heads! There was a lot of dozing on the bus though - try riding for three hours in 25C heat and stay awake, it's tough. The first port of call today was close to our overnight stay at Kalbarri. We had a walk down one of the famous gorges - Kalbarri National Park has over 1000sqkm of them, so we had it to ourselves. At the bottom was a trickling river dyed a stunning green by massive amounts of algae. WA is home to all kinds of natural animals, but also feral foxes, goats, rabbits and pigs. There's a fence that runs along the length of the state border to keep them out, but it seems to be a losing battle. Fortunately there's a natural poison that all local animals are immune to, but introduced species aren't. There are a lot of poison warning notices everywhere.

One place we stopped in the afternoon was at Hamelin Pool - a special site for all biologists as it's one of only two places in the world where you can see living Stromatolites. What are they? Well, they are groups of simple bacteria that decided to live together in a colony for safety and produce a rocky home for themselves. Ordinarily, these footstool-shaped rocks would be unspectacular, but when you realise this action was the first instance of single-celled life joining together the importance strikes you. That moment was when simple life started the long path that resulted in everything else, including us. Stromatolites have been quietly going about their business, unchanged, for 2000 million years. They used to cover the entire planet, and did so for far far longer than all other forms of life put together. These rocks are special - and now they are only found at two salty bays on opposite sides of the world (the other being in the Bahamas). Hamelin Pool has every UNESCO World Heritage qualification there is. The examples in the photo are almost 3000yrs old. If you know me - you can imagine how stunning I found this. It was brilliant.