Below the surface: where to find the best snorkeling spots in Port Stephens | Port Stephens Examiner

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Port Stephens is well known for its wide variety of marine life.

Marine animals such as whales, seals, dolphins, turtles and many types of fish inhabit the marine park.

It is this marine life that makes the area a very popular destination for snorkelers to visit and enjoy and the protection provided by the Marine Park is to the benefit of these species.

During the summer, the water is generally warm (+20 degrees) which makes it quite pleasant to practice snorkeling and swimming in the Port Stephens region.

There are several safe areas for snorkelling in the Marine Park with some information below on the best places to snorkel.

Fly Point is home to some of the most extensive sponge gardens on Australia’s east coast, which attract a wide variety of fish and marine invertebrates.

The long term protection of Fly Point as a marine sanctuary area (protected from fishing since 1983) has allowed these fish and sea creatures to thrive and it is the safest and most ideal place for diving. with snorkel in Port Stephens.

Strong tidal currents flow through the Fly Point Sanctuary area, ensuring excellent water quality in the area. The best time to scuba dive and snorkel is at the top of high tide. Diving at high tide is essential as the currents are not as strong and the water is clearer. It can also be dived at low tide but the visibility is not as good.

As you walk through the water at Fly Point you will be surrounded by a large number of bream, tar and luderick. At high tide, the shallow intertidal zone comes alive with a great diversity of fish species swimming on kelp beds and seagrass beds. Some very unusual marine species including seahorses, nudibranchs (commonly known as sea slugs), morays and even endangered green sea turtles live here.

In the summer when the water is warm, you can often find juvenile tropical fish species such as butterflyfish, damselfish and even lionfish in the sanctuary. Sometimes these juvenile fish species will become permanent residents if they can cope with the cold water of winter when it arrives.

Divers at Fly Point.  Photo: Ellie-Marie Watts

Divers at Fly Point. Photo: Ellie-Marie Watts

Similar to Fly Point, it is important to snorkel at this site at the top of high tide.

One of the most popular areas for snorkelling is in the shallows from the dirt parking lot towards Little Beach. In the shallows you will often see blue groping and pretty purple banded wrasse while if you look among the rock crevices you might be lucky enough to see a wobbegong shark.

Be careful when snorkeling in the Halifax Park Sanctuary as there are many boats passing through the area.

Shoal Bay is home to some of the marine park’s most extensive seagrass meadows. Snorkeling on seagrass beds can actually be very interesting as many species live in seagrass beds. This is a great place to find cuttlefish, seahorses and pipefish and during the summer there are often large flat heads hidden among the seagrass that patiently await the passage of fish to grapple with. The best area for snorkelling in Shoal Bay is the eastern end at the base of Tomaree Headland.

Boat Harbor and Fisherman’s Bay

Both of these sites are on the ocean side of Port Stephens (near Anna Bay) and offer a very different snorkeling opportunity than what you would normally see inside the Port Stephens Estuary.

The bottom of the land is rocky and kelp covered reefs and is a great place to see a variety of fish species such as wrasse, bream and morwong. If you’re lucky, you might even come across a sea turtle or the protected black cod.

Remember, you are snorkeling in a marine park, so the catch and destruction of marine life is limited. So be sure to respect and take care of the marine environment.

Dr David Harasti is a senior marine scientist in the New South Wales Primary Industries Fisheries Department, based at Taylors Beach.

To highlight the incredible underwater world of the Port, the Examiner collaborates with regular divers and bay photographers on a new series that explores life below the surface.

To read also in the series Sous la surface

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