This was a town for all kinds. Syrup’s Health and Gourmet Shop provided our first gluten-free experience in quite some time, where a slightly frizzled lady sold us rolls and spoke to us with more authority about coeliac disease than any shop here or at home has done since. The bar and hotel was a true outback ramshackle affair – plastic chairs, beer and lotto. Caravan and trailer parks nestled alongside luxury hotels. Our own campsite felt like somebody’s back garden. A gossip of galahs pecked at food on a roadside lawn, jumping with fright as each car passed. People loitered by the bottle shop, while others sipped coffee outside cafes. In the evening we ate at a world-famous establishment known as Finlays Fish BBQ, a fine dining establishment set inside an old fish factory that offers ‘no service, no corkage, no glasses and no frills’, all inside a tin shed. It was brilliant. We devoured our plate of fish and meat with glee, and the resident cat chewed our leftover prawn shells with even greater enjoyment.
Sadly our time in Kalbarri came to an end far too quickly, and as we set out the following morning to complete our loop back to the north-south highway, we rued our chance to explore further. But there was one last treat, for Kalbarri was home to a seahorse sanctuary.
Millions of seahorses are taken from the wild each year to be sold as pets, depleting coral reef ecosystems and harming already endangered wild populations. Buying such creatures is not only harmful but a false economy, for wild seahorses tend not to survive in the artificial conditions of a tank and do not naturally eat dead fish food sold by aquaria. The Seahorse Sanctuary in Kalbarri existed not only to breed seahorses, thereby preventing further damage to wild populations, but to wean them on to frozen fish food, increasing their chances of survival as pets and thereby their value for money. Where wild seahorses typically die in captivity after 5-6 weeks, sanctuary seahorses can survive for up to 6 years. The sanctuary was a pet industry business that provided both a better solution for customers and a tenable conservation objective.
As an attraction it was pretty good too. For its size (one room) there was a lot to see and do, taking you through the process from breeding through seahorse school and on to graduation. Mixed with pipefish and older seahorses, young seahorses were taught by demonstration to eat frozen shrimp, to become big and strong and to make their parents proud. The creatures were colourful, flamboyant and rather lovely to watch, and we spent a good hour making friends and chilling out with the seahorses. Brilliantly, the venture was sponsored by Guylian.
Then off we drove, on to Dongara-Port Denison, Cervantes and then Perth, and this story was forgotten.
Then on Friday I discovered that the Seahorse Sanctuary in Kalbarri has closed. This makes me really sad and I can offer no additional information as to what has happened. I can only hope that the good work of the sanctuary is being continued by others elsewhere. I would be grateful that if anybody knows anything more about the sanctuary’s closure they would share it, as this is truly a loss. In the meanwhile, may I salute the efforts of Michael and Wendy Payne over the past 10 years towards the protection of wild seahorse populations.