While the northwestern region of Australia is known for oil and gas exploration, another kind of exploration is now gaining popularity nowadays but has nothing to do with producing energy. In fact, you will later realize that it is the other way around. People are starting to talk about this remote part of Australia, not on the topic of oil production and how it contributes to the supply of Australia’s petroleum requirement, but rather, on spending a break and have an amazing vacation.
A great getaway in northwest Australia can be spent in the 174 islands of Montebello. This oceanic archipelago is favored by sport fishermen, snorkelers and scuba divers alike. Located 130 kilometers (81 miles) west of Pilbara in northwest Australia, Montebello islands provides the perfect adventure while being one with nature and away from the buzzling city life. But before Montebello islands became a popular tourist destination, a dark past lies behind its history, where if it had been done today, would have catastrophic consequences.
Operation Hurricane and Mosaic: An Explosive Past
In the morning of October 3, 1952 Britain rose in the World’s military ranks of being the third country to test and detonate a nuclear bomb. Code-named “Operation Hurricane”, Britain detonated a 25-kiloton nuclear device off the coast of Trimouille island. That usual silent day started with the nuclear device being carried onboard a surplus warship, positioned itself and anchored near one of the flat islands of Montebello. And, at exactly 8 o’clock in the morning: BOOM.
The nuclear bomb was similar to the Fat Man Bomb that was dropped by the US in Nagasaki, Japan during the Second World War as an answer to what the Japanese did to their base in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The 25-kiloton nuclear bomb, which was primarily made of plutonium, completely powderized the ship it carried her while creating a nuclear mushroom cloud over 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles) high and leaving an underwater crater as wide as 300 meters (1,000 feet) and 6 meters (20 feet) deep.
Well, you can expect that the wildlife thriving around Montebello islands were completely annihilated, and given the fact, that the natural resources back then was in a better state compared today. It was a tragedy for Mother Nature in exchange for data and aiding the military what to do in a radioactive fallout.
Just imagine if there were humans near the nuclear perimeter back then. Or what if it happened today with all the tourist just having a great vacation? Well, we tell you that there were hundreds of military servicemen back then who were on the perimeter watching the nuclear cloud rose up in the sky. If you are guessing many of them got cancer and other ailments as a consequence of exposure to radiation, then you are right as many of them died within months. And the worst part is, Operation Hurricane was not the first and last as two more nuclear test were conducted in Montebello islands just 4 years after, now code-named Operation Mosaic.
For more information, please read our related article about The Explosive Past of Montebello islands.
National Marine Park: The Perfect Conversion
Time really heals. Everything heals with time including the destruction we do with nature. This is particularly true in Montebello islands where decades after the consecutive nuclear blast, nature sprouted back to life. We personally do not know if this was a matter of coincidence, but in Italian, Montebello means “beautiful mountain” which is one of the descriptions applicable in its current state.
Instead of military men flocking the shores of Montebello islands, tourist seeking for an amazing eco-adventure now rules in this northwestern part of Australia. Aside from the rugged landscape which perfectly represents a true Aussie Outback Experience, the great diversity of wildlife is what really attracts visitors from all parts of the globe. Listed here under are the wildlife thriving around Montebello islands, as follows:
Diversity: 450 species
Mostly composed of marine species, fish are abundant in Montebello islands. Regardless of what type of habitat you go and explore, like the protected shelter of coral reefs or out in the open sea, fish are thriving usually in a healthy population.
Diversity: 150 species
Going down under in Montebello islands allows you to see over a hundred reef building organisms which ultimate forms what we called coral reefs. The unique limestone structure of Montebello islands has led it to grow 2 types of major reefs where you can see both a barrier and a fringing reef.
Diversity: 630 species
By simply looking at their diversity, you can say that mollusc gets the bigger slice of the pie in terms of wildlife population on Montebello islands. While that fact is true, molluscs are also dominant in Montebello islands in terms of numbers which are mostly represented by squids, octopus and marine gastropods like sea slugs. It just so happened that they are small in size.
Diversity: 170 species
The moment you set foot on any of the shallow waters around Montebello islands, we are sure enough that there is an echinoderm lying on the sand. Most of the prominent type that you will see are the brightly colored sea stars or commonly called as starfish. But you should also be aware that several spiny types of echinoderms called sea urchins that are hiding in cracks and crevices thrives in Montebello islands and may give you a nasty sting if you step or touch it.
Diversity: 6 species
In the case of Montebello islands, mangroves are given special treatment as they do not normally thrive in oceanic islands. These isolated coastal forest has become a safe haven for juvenile fish taking refuge under its protruding roots.
Diversity: Over a dozen species
Most of the seabird colonies are found near mangrove forest. The shallow tidal flats coupled with the towering branches of mangroves provides seabirds the perfect habitat to nurse their young and food is just within reach. Just do not expect them to be present whole year round as majority of them are migratory.
Diversity: 6 species
While studies will tell you that Montebello islands houses six kinds of sea turtles, only three are frequently seen such as the hawksbill, green and flatback sea turtles. They are so attuned to Montebello islands that they consider it their nesting grounds. If you are in the right time and in the right place, you can see gravid females slowly walking up the sandy shores, digging up, and laying their eggs and after which, they cover it again with sand. So, be careful not to step on them.
Dolphins and Whales
Diversity: 10 species including the Sea Cow or Dugong
Montebello islands is not just a haven for small wildlife but also for the giants. Humpback whales are one of the stars and will surely amaze you as they leap out of the water making a big splash as they enter back. On the extreme end, the gentle sea cows will give you the real meaning of what it is to be in a tranquil state as they move slowly along seagrass beds. Word of advice for extended interaction: do not do jerky movements or disturb them while foraging marine plants, their favorite meal, as they will quickly move out of your sight as they are capable of swimming up to speeds of 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph).
Now, if we are going to combine the great landscape of Montebello islands plus the physical factors associated with isolation and the immense wildlife, it seems that you already have the main ingredients for a perfect vacation. So to keep you busy and burn those stored calories, please read our related article about The Adventure Sports in Montebello Islands.
At the end of the day, no matter how tragic a country’s past, it will always ends up being triumphant as long as the people living in it wants to. And we think, testing nuclear weapons nowadays is the least priority for a country who would rather concentrate on how to grow its economy where one of the contributing factors is ecotourism. So, let us all make peace and not war.
Dark Tourism: www.dark-tourism.com
Parks and Wildlife Service – Government of Western Australia: www.parks.dpaw.gov.au
The West: www.thewest.com.au
Video courtesy from Luke Ryan