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Jawbone Marine Sanctuary and Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, Williamstown

Home > Melbourne > Animals and Wildlife | Beaches | Nature | Parks | Picnic Spots
by Lyndsey V (subscribe)
I'm an ecologist and writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Also visit me at www.instagram.com/victoriafloraandfauna/
Published April 21st 2019
Meet the marine and coastal wildlife of Williamstown
Barely ten kilometres from the heart of Melbourne are two coastal wildlife havens: Jawbone Marine Sanctuary and Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve. These picturesque and peaceful reserves at Williamstown provide protection for a huge range of Port Phillip Bay's marine and coastal life, as well as offer plenty of recreational activities for everyone. There's lots to see and do at any time of year, including walking, cycling, bird watching, picnicking, swimming and snorkelling.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Follow the boardwalk through the coastal vegetation and the colourful lichen-clad boulders of the reserve


In Melbourne's warmer months, the marine sanctuary is one of the city's most accessible places for snorkelling. There's a huge variety of marine environments packed into a relatively small area, including sandy seafloors, seagrass meadows, saltmarsh, mangroves and rocky boulders, all providing habitat for a range of marine critters.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Snorkelling with the fish in the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary


To access the water, a small walking track leads down from the main bike path that runs along the foreshore. A map and information board marks the location as the 'snorkel entry point'.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
In the warmer months, head down the walking track for a snorkel among the seagrass and rocks


Entering the water here leads into an area of sandy seafloor and seagrasses. This is a good place to explore the shallows, with small marine creatures such as pipefish and shrimp camouflaged among the sand and seagrass. Head to the right to explore deeper waters among the rocks. Swim quietly and patiently, keeping a lookout for the variety of fish, rays, jellyfish, seastars, colourful seaweeds and other marine life that can be seen in the reserve. Check out the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary Care Group (Inc) website to find out what plants and animals have been found in the sanctuary.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
What fish can you spot in the marine sanctuary?


Jawbone Marine Sanctuary protects 30 hectares of marine waters. On the adjacent foreshore is the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, which in turn protects 50 hectares of coastal vegetation and wetlands. Throughout the reserve is a network of walking and cycling trails, and plenty of open space to explore.

A highlight is the boardwalk that extends through the spectacular saltmarsh and mangroves, creating a stunning view across the colourful reds and greens to the sparkling blue waters of Port Phillip Bay.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
The stunning colours of the saltmarsh vegetation along the boardwalk


The boardwalk passes near the largest patch of mangroves in Port Phillip Bay. They are also unusual in that they are the only mangroves in Victoria that grow amongst basalt rocks, unlike other Victorian mangroves which are found on intertidal mudflats. Along the boardwalk are lots of interpretive signs with information about the flora and fauna of the reserve. In summer months be careful of snakes, which are often spotted in this area.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Views from the boardwalk across to the bay


Another popular activity is birdwatching. With more than 160 bird species previously recorded at the reserve, it's one of Melbourne's many great spots for bird watching. Bring along your binoculars and spend some time at the bird hides located on the main lake, or visit at low tide to see migratory waders wandering the mudflats. BirdLife Melbourne have a list of birds that might be spotted in the reserve.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Interpretive signs in the Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve including information about the many birds that can been seen


The reserve was once a rifle range, established back in 1877, and was even used as the rifle shooting venue for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The rifle range was closed in 1990 when the surrounding housing was developed, and the reserve has since been transformed with the help of the the local community into the nature haven that it is today.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Get to know your local indigenous plants with a walk around the small arboretum


A small arboretum has also been established, showcasing some of the indigenous plant species of the area's volcanic plains ecosystems. Many of the plants along the path have plaques with their scientific name, and might provide some inspiration for planting local species in your own garden!

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
Explore the walking tracks and bike paths


Parking is fairly limited to nearby suburban streets, such as Mullins Court, off Rifle Range Road. However, the reserves are easily accessible by cycling and walking tracks, including the Bay Trail.

As these reserves are protected areas for flora and fauna, visitors should take extra care of the local environment, including taking all rubbish home, not disturbing any wildlife, staying on tracks to avoid tramping vegetation, and ensure that restrictions and signs are obeyed. Dogs are restricted to some areas only, and there is no fishing, taking or killing of marine life allowed.

Jawbone Marine Sanctuary, Williamstown, Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve, walks, snorkelling, birds, nature, beach, Melbourne
The snorkelling entry point - remember to look after the sanctuary and obey restrictions such as the no taking or killing of marine life


For locals who are interested in learning more about the reserves, or who would like to get involved in caring for them, check out the websites for the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary Care Group and the Friends of Williamstown Wetlands, who both run a big calendar of events and activities including walks, bird watching and planting days.
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Why? Explore the marine and coastal life of the Jawbone Marine Sanctuary and Flora and Fauna Reserve
When: Any time
Phone: 131 963 (Parks Victoria)
Where: Williamstown
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Great article, with an interesting underwater perspective! Excellent pictures. Thanks!
by Michael Genrich (score: 3|1441) 33 days ago
Great article
by Phoebe Hackett (score: 2|228) 33 days ago
It's a great spot for birdwatching. Fine article Lyndsey!
by Janice Heath (score: 2|365) 32 days ago
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