Grab your flippers, snorkel and mask and explore underwater
The beaches around Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula harbour a surprisingly diverse range of marine life. From rocky shores to seagrass beds to the artificial habitat provided by pier pylons, there's a fascinating and bizarre world to explore underwater. And it's not just seaweed and sea stars: snorkellers might see the strange but beautiful weedy seadragon (Victoria's marine emblem), startlingly colourful nudibranchs, Port Jackson sharks, and an array of graceful rays and stingarees.
Spotting a fish at Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary (Photo: L. Vivian)
Many of the best places to go snorkelling are easily accessible from the shore, and many are also quite shallow, with plenty of marine life to see in just a few metres of water. It certainly pays to be patient: swim quietly and look carefully in the seagrass, on pier pylons and even on the sandy sea floors. You never know what might be hiding, camouflaged against the marine backdrop!
Look carefully... what's that hiding in the sand at Ricketts Point? (Photo: L. Vivian)
So from west to east around the shores of Port Phillip Bay and to the back beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, here are eight of the best places to go snorkelling.
Jawbone Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown is one of the closest snorkelling spots to the centre of Melbourne. It's a 30 hectare sanctuary that protects a diverse range of different types of marine habitats, including seagrass, mangroves and rocky areas, which in turn harbours an array of marine life. There's plenty to see here, even in the shallows, making it ideal for beginners. Marine life to spot include pipefish (often hiding in the seagrass), sea stars, jellyfish, banjo sharks (or southern fiddler rays), zebrafish, crabs, stingarees and rays. There's also lots of colourful algae and seaweeds. Back on shore, the area is also a great location for bird watching.
A pipefish hiding in the seagrass (Photo: L. Vivian)
Rye Pier has a variety of marine life to spot and is a good place for beginner snorkellers. It even has a 200-metre long underwater 'self-guided' marine trail, the Octopuses Garden, with signs about the marine life under the pier. The pylons are covered in all sorts of colourful sponges and algae, with plenty of fish, squid, and rays to see as well. It's mostly sandy underneath the pier, but keep your eye out for critters living in the discarded tyres. It's also a good spot to see seahorses, and even the odd seal! Rye Pier is a long 'L' shaped pier, and often has lots of people fishing so it's best to stay underneath.
Checking out the pylons under Rye pier (Photo: L. Vivian)
Blairgowrie Pier is one of the best places near Melbourne for snorkelling. The pier pylons are an astounding colour of sponges and algae, with plenty of hiding spots for small fish such as the cheeky-looking blennies, colourful nudibranchs and crabs. In fact, over 100 species of nudibranchs have been recorded here! Just floating along slowly and gazing at the marine life packed on to the pylons is incredible. But there's also plenty of other creatures to see swimming around under the pier and hiding near or on the sea floor, including a diversity of fish, stingarees, stingrays, cuttlefish and squid.
One of the most colourful nudibranchs (Tambja verconis) that can be seen at Blairgowrie and Portsea piers (Photo: L. Vivian)
It's a very busy place up above (as it is a working marina) so it's best to stay under the pier and out of the way.
Portsea Pier is a reliable place to see weedy sea dragons. These graceful creatures float around gently near (or in) the patches of seagrass and seaweeds, and are often very well camouflaged! The pier itself is shaped like an 'L', so once you get to the end of the straight section, you can follow the pier to its end around to the right. Like the other piers, there's also plenty of marine life to see attached to the pylons, and it's possible to see nudibranchs here. A small rocky reef approximately 50 metres to the west of the pier is another good spot to explore.
Look closely in the seagrass to spot the weedy seadragon at Portsea (Photo: L. Vivian)
Diamond Bay is one of Sorrento's ocean beaches, so it is exposed to the ocean swells and currents. It is suitable for advanced snorkellers only and requires a calm day with no swell. It's a bit of a walk from a rather small carpark, including steep steps down to the beach itself. But on a calm day with good visibility, it's a fun place to explore underwater. Diamond Bay also very picturesque, surrounded by steep sandstone cliffs.
It is quite sandy in the centre area, so snorkelling around the more rocky edges is better for spotting marine life. There's plenty of rocky nooks and overhangs, with a variety of fish to see – and possibly even crayfish. There's also lots of kelp and other algae to snorkel through and explore.
A calm day with good visibility is needed for snorkelling at Diamond Bay (Photo: L. Vivian)
Mushroom Reef Marine Sanctuary is located at Flinders ocean beach. This is generally a deeper snorkelling spot and can be quite exposed to the ocean swells so it is recommended for advanced snorkellers. The reef itself is shaped like a mushroom, and has lots of rocky nooks and crannies to explore for marine life. There's also plenty of seagrass and algae to snorkel through, which are good areas to spot fish and weedy seadragons. At low tide, there's also lots of interesting rock pools to explore!
An eagle ray at Mushroom Reef Marine Sanctuary (Photo: L. Vivian)
Flinders Pier is The Spot to see weedy seadragons. But there is also plenty of other marine life as well, including rays, cuttlefish and crabs and various fish. There's also often large stingrays swimming around, which can be a bit startling when they float by unexpectedly! There's lots of seagrass and seaweeds, which are good places for spotting pipefish. Flinders Pier is quite long but there are plenty of ladders along its length for easy exit and entry points for a shorter snorkel.
Safety: Always swim and snorkel within your abilities, swim with at least one other friend (and stay close to each other), and make sure you are aware of the weather and local conditions such as tide times, water temperatures, wind speed and direction and water currents. Don't touch the underwater marine life. Some of it can be toxic, but also by leaving things alone you give the next snorkeller who comes along a chance to see it too.
Detailed information on shore and pier dives from The Scuba Doctor Australia (including ideal local snorkelling conditions for each location)