Snorkelling Port Phillip Bay
With more than 80% of its marine life found nowhere else on Earth, Port Phillip Bay is a snorkeler’s playground. Never been in yourself? We’ve picked some of our favourite spots from around the Bay to whet your appetite.
Inner east: Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary
Great for beginners, Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary is a shallow site with a very gentle slope. You can choose to drift gently over seagrass beds where baby fish, harmless Port Jackson Sharks and Fiddler Rays hide, or inspect the rock walls covered in mussels and Common Seastars, where leatherjackets and schools of Zebrafish feed.
Want a bit of guidance to get started? Consider joining Marine Care Ricketts Point and attending one of their Saturday snorkels. This site is also wheelchair accessible from the Beaumaris Yacht Club South Carpark.
Southern Fiddler Ray – Blairgowrie Pier
Inner west: Point Cooke Marine Sanctuary
Another great spot for beginners, Point Cooke Marine Sanctuary boasts shallow waters, seagrass beds and rocky reefs coated in kelp, coral-like red algae and the white houses of tubeworms. Look for colourful Purple Sea Urchins among the rocks, but don’t touch, because their spines are brittle and can get painfully stuck in your skin. Thorough exploration might reveal a peaceful and majestic Southern Eagle Ray resting amongst the grass or seaweed.
Far west: Clifton Springs:
Sheltered, sandy and shallow, the old Clifton Springs pier offers snorkelling on days when other spots are too windy and rough. The planks from this old pier have been removed, but the pylons remain and have been populated by all sorts of marine algae and sessile (unmoving) animals like ascidians and bryozoans; you might find seahorses and nudibranchs (sea slugs) hiding amongst these. The sandy bottom is a good home for fish like flathead and stingarees.
Red Rock Crab – Portsea Pier
Bellarine Peninsula: St Leonards Pier
St Leonards Pier has a lot to explore with its seagrass and algae meadows, pylons covered in sponges, and substantial, sheltered rock wall. With this diversity of habitats, St Leonards offers big schools of fish such as Old Wives and globefish along with plenty of nudibranchs, seahorses and crustaceans, leatherjackets, goatfish and blennies. Curious Victorian Scalyfins might approach to check you out, and attempt to chase you away if you get too close to their territory.
Mornington Peninsula: Blairgowrie Pier
Blairgowrie Pier is internationally renowned for its annual Spider Crab aggregations and a world-first operation to transplant and protect delicate sponge gardens. The protected marina supports exquisite sponge gardens filled with delicate Red-handed Shrimp, nudibranchs, Red Rock Crabs, tiny hermit crabs, baby seahorses and weedfish, while the sandy sea floor is home to flathead, flounder and Dumpling Squid. Schools of young Longfin Pike and Aussie Herring are common, as are visits from the area’s giant Smooth Stingrays. Large sea jellies are often caught between the marina wall and the pier, sometimes with sheltering fish in tow.
Haeckel’s Sea Jelly and Mosaic Leatherjackets – Blairgowrie Pier
Mornington Peninsula: Portsea Pier
Portsea Pier is the number one spot for Weedy Seadragons in the bay. With patience and a keen eye, you’ll be well-equipped to spot one of Victoria’s most loved marine species. Weedy Seadragons keep close to the seafloor, protected amongst the seagrass meadows to the left and right of the pier, or sheltered near the bottom of the pylons. These beautiful fish are well-camouflaged, but once you find your first one, they start appearing everywhere. Other than Victoria’s marine emblem, you’ll find that Portsea Pier plays host to hordes of globefish, toadfish and goatfish, as well as the impressive Dusky Morwongs, Blue Weed Whiting and Eleven-armed Seastars.
Weedy Seadragon – Portsea Pier
Bonus site: Popes Eye
You’ll need a boat to get to this splash spot, which is one of the best dive sites in Victoria. This artificial island was built in the 1800s and now acts as a breeding colony for Australasian Gannets and a resting spot for Australian Fur Seals. Popes Eye is a marine protected area, and you can see the evidence of this in the very healthy populations of large, old fish. Huge Sixspine and Horseshoe Leatherjackets drift above the boulders and extensive kelp gardens, while large Bluethroat Wrasse, Herring Cale, Magpie Perch and colourful Senator Wrasse flit in and out of crevices. There are a number of excellent local tour operators that can show you around Popes Eye, but if you can’t get out there, check out The Nature Conservancy’s fantastic webcams.
When planning a snorkel, it pays to understand how weather conditions can affect your enjoyment and safety. It’s always best to pick a site where the prevailing wind is heading offshore (coming from behind you when you look out on the bay). When the wind is blowing onshore it whips up waves and currents that disturb the sand, greatly limiting the visibility. Also, snorkelling in waves is never much fun. After several days of offshore winds, the visibility is at its best. Be mindful that there can be strong currents at Portsea Pier, Blairgowrie Pier, St Leonards and Popes Eye which can be avoided by snorkeling one hour either side of high or low tide when the tide is turning or “slack”. ALWAYS snorkel with a friend, and NEVER snorkel outside your abilities. If you’re nervous, start with the sites in the sheltered, northern end of the bay, and work your way up to the pier snorkels. Remember that you share these spaces with other Bay users and it is everyone’s responsibility to make the Bay a safe place to enjoy. Be especially mindful of boats and fishing lines around piers and stay safe by remaining underneath the structure.
You’ll find out more about where to snorkel and what you’ll find in Port Phillip Bay at the Connected to Port Phillip website, and in these great books:
Melbourne Down Under: Sheree Marris
Beneath Our Bay: John J. Gaskell, Christopher G. Smith and Evan Y. Coker