The unsung joys of diving in Port Phillip Bay
Have you ever done something that swept you off your feet, so much so that you knew you were going to keep doing it for the rest of your life? Something that allows you to escape when life gets hard? Something that you want to share with your loved ones more than anything else? For me, that’s scuba diving. The day I started, as a 14-year-old ocean enthusiast, I came home to my Dad who had paid for my open water diving course and I told him that I wanted to become a marine biologist. Just like that, diving had become a healthy addiction that I didn’t want to quit.
It informed where I chose to travel, work, and volunteer. I was chasing species, I was chasing places, I was chasing unusual underwater experiences. Diving with Whale Sharks in the Galápagos Islands; bathing in the light filtering through Mexico’s natural sinkholes; snorkelling with young and clumsy Elephant Seals in Subantarctic territories; and witnessing the sheer power and beauty of Great White Sharks up close and personal in South Africa. These were all unique and transformative experiences that made me feel joyful, excited, tense and amazed, all at the same time, and kept fuelling my passion for the marine world. Despite having been to all of these places and experiencing all of these wonders, there’s one place where diving continues to amaze me: Port Phillip Bay.
Squid at Blairgowrie Pier. Photo credit: PT Hirschfield / Pink Tank Scuba
Diving in Port Phillip Bay is a unique experience. Surprisingly, though, many Melburnians tend to be unaware of this. I’ve rarely seen great diving in such close proximity to a big city. What I like best about diving in the Bay is the diversity and accessibility. It’s very easy for beginners to jump in and spot creatures as extraordinary as Weedy Seadragons, or witness a phenomenon as incredible as aggregating in the shallows to moult. All of this, just a few metres below the water’s surface, an hour and a half from the CBD, under easy-to-access piers.
Spider crabs at Blairgowrie Pier. Photo credit: Elodie Camprasse
With an average depth of 14 metres, divers don’t require advanced certifications to enjoy what the Bay has to offer, although more challenging dives, especially towards Port Phillip Heads, will also suit adrenaline-seeking, experienced divers who want to get out there and do boat dives. Awesome Reef, Devils Dropoff, Gem Pier, Queenscliff, Royal Beach and Dragon’s Lair are just a few of the hundreds of dive sites in and around Port Phillip Bay, the names of which captured my imagination before I settled down in Melbourne and give an indication of how epic the diving is here.
A scuba diver enjoying a dive on the wreck of the Eliza Ramsden in Port Phillip Bay. Photo credit: PT Hirschfield / Pink Tank Scuba
Granted, the underwater world of Port Phillip Bay is not always as colourful as that of the Great Barrier Reef, although you’ll still find corals in its temperate waters. And sure, the chilly winter conditions can seem uninviting, but Port Phillip Bay houses such great diversity and so many hidden gems that once you’re hooked, you’ll realise that Melbourne diving keeps on giving no matter what. I personally love the diversity of habitats and species that call the Bay home.
A cuttlefish guarding their eggs in Port Phillip Bay. Photo credit: PT Hirschfield / Pink Tank Scuba
Dumpling squids, seadragons, stargazers, anglerfishes, seahorses, sea slugs, stingrays, octopuses and cuttlefishes are amongst my all-time favourites; most of them are seen regularly in the Bay, but on occasion you’ll also experience extra-special encounters. You may catch a glimpse of a cormorant diving for their next meal, get an adrenaline rush as dolphins that seem to come out of nowhere race by you, or be checked out by a bunch of curious, playful seals. I could spend hours examining every colourful sponge and the creatures that hide amongst them under Blairgowrie Pier; searching for cuttlefish camouflaged in the seagrass meadows at Ricketts Point; trying to spot crayfish on Boarfish Reef; or exploring one of the many shipwrecks within the Bay while remembering what incidents led to their demise.
A playful seal in Port Phillip Bay. Photo credit: Elodie Camprasse
Melbourne has a very dedicated community of divers. 364 of them gathered under Rye Pier to break the Guinness World Record for the longest underwater human chain on a rainy December day back in 2017. This certainly speaks to the fact that Melbourne has many enthusiastic divers whose passion is contagious. In a joyful atmosphere, they wanted to make a statement; they wanted to show the world how amazing our underwater backyard is and encourage people to join in the fun. The smiles on everyone’s faces that day made me feel very privileged to be part of such a welcoming community. So take the plunge in Port Phillip Bay and come make bubbles with us – you won’t regret it!