A formal bid to recognise Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula as a world heritage site is expected to intensify calls for the preservation of ancient rock art.

The federal government is understood to have nominated the site, known traditionally as Murujuga, for consideration in UNESCO’s annual assessment period.

It advances a formal world heritage nomination process which began in 2020 when the peninsula was put forward for a tentative listing.

Murujuga is home to more than a million petroglyphs dating back over 40,000 years, placing it among the world’s most significant rock art sites.

Traditional custodians have campaigned against industrialisation which threatens the preservation of the petroglyphs.

Mardudhunera woman Raelene Cooper from the Save our Songlines group called for a moratorium on further industrial development on the peninsula.

She said there was no doubt the listing process would eventually lead to the rock art being protected.

“Before these industries are allowed to do any more damage, the UN expert group must undertake its independent assessment of the values and threats, and identify the full extent of values worthy of protection,” she said on Monday.

A program monitoring the health of the petroglyphs is being developed by the WA government and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek last year appointed an independent reporter to conduct a cultural heritage assessment of all industry on the Burrup Peninsula.

She rejected an application by the Save our Songlines group for work to be paused on Perdaman’s proposed $4.3 billion urea plant near Karratha.

Perdaman has said the project is being thoroughly assessed and will have minimal impact on rock art.

A $220 million federal government loan to develop the plant, subject to Perdaman securing regulatory approvals and financing conditions, was announced last year.

Other industry in the area includes Woodside’s North West Shelf and Pluto LNG plants and an ammonia plant owned by Norwegian company Yara.

Australia is home to 20 world heritage sites including WA’s Shark Bay, Purnululu National Park, Ningaloo Coast and Fremantle Prison.