Twelve Apostles Marine National Park
Located seven kilometres east of Port Campbell, the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park is Victoria's second largest Marine National Park and covers 7,500 hectares along approximately 17 kilometres of coastline. The park extends out from the renowned Twelve Apostles and includes some of Victoria's most spectacular underwater scenery. There are rich intertidal and subtidal invertebrate communities, dramatic underwater arches, canyons, fissures, gutters and deep sloping reefs. Although the Marine National Park itself is relatively inaccessible from the shore because of the high cliffs and powerful sea conditions, the park includes the Twelve Apostles rock formations, and is the third most visited natural site in Australia.
The wild and powerful Southern Ocean that sculpts the area's limestone landscape also shrouds a remarkable seascape beneath the waves; a submarine labyrinth of towering canyons, caves, arches and walls. These natural features are festooned with colourful seaweed and sponge 'gardens', resident schools of reef fish, such as sweep, gliding above and the occasional visit by an Australian Fur Seal.
Breeding colonies of seabirds regularly inhabit the rock stacks and islands within the park and the adjacent coastline has sites of significance for flora and fauna. There are also sites of geological and geomorphological significance including karst (ie cave) topography.
Like much of the Victorian coast, the region covered by the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park is significant due to the wide use of the area by coastal Aborigines. A number of indigenous cultural sites of significance have been identified along the adjacent coast including middens and stone artefact scatters. There have been no archaeological sites identified within the park, however local indigenous communities still hold a strong affiliation with the marine and coastal environment of the area.
Notable sites within the Marine National Park relating to European Settlement include:
Gibson's steps and tunnel adjacent to the Marine National Park, dating back to the 1880s, which were constructed to provide access through a cliff to the beach;
Marie Gabrielle anchors, from a shipwreck in 1869. An iron anchor and part of the capstan from the French barque are located near Moonlight Head. This ship was on route from China with a load of tea when it hit the reef after being forced ashore by strong winds; and
Immediately adjacent to the park is the Point Ronald tunnel and Breakwater. The site features a river diversion tunnel constructed through rock at the base of the cliff at Point Ronald.
Bass Strait was a major shipping route supplying the growing colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. Five ships, comprising both immigrant ships and traders, are located in or near this park. The Loch Ard was wrecked in 1878. Fifty-two lives were lost. The two survivors were cared for at the Glenample Homestead. Four casualties from the wreck are buried in the Loch Ard cemetery. Other shipwrecks in the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park include the Marie Gabrielle, mentioned above and the Fiji, an Irish barque that ran aground in 1891 after losing its way near Cape Otway in heavy seas. Twelve lives were lost in this wreck. Both of these ships are found on a stretch of coast known as Wreck Beach at Moonlight Head.
The marine environment of the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park is characteristic of the surrounding area from Childers Cove (East of Warrnambool) to Gibson's Steps, which has the highest diversity of intertidal and subtidal invertebrates on limestone in Victoria, as well as supporting a diverse range of fish.
From the cliffs you can see the thick brown fronds of Bull Kelp (Durvillea potatorum) attached to the rocks near the low tide mark, swirling in the ocean swell. Southern Giant Kelp forms forests at some locations that reach the surface from 10 metres in depth. Lobster, abalone and sea urchins are common underneath the thick kelp canopy.
Offshore reefs (30-60 metres deep) are known to support sponge 'gardens' with colourful and varied sponges, sea squirts and bryozoans that shelter many invertebrate animals including sea-spiders, beautiful sea slugs (or nudibranchs) and a diverse range of seasnails and seastars.
Little Penguins feed in the park and nest in caves below the Twelve Apostles. Patient observation just after dark or in the early morning will allow visitors to view these birds from the platforms at the 12 Apostles.
Weedy Seadragons are dainty, timid animals that hover slowly and gracefully over the kelp forests in which they shelter. Growing up to 46 centimetres, their long elegant bodies have several leaf-shaped modified fins that enable them to easily camouflage amongst seaweed. Seadragons are related to pipefishes and seahorses and like them, it is the male that holds the eggs. With Weedy Seadragons, the tiny pink eggs can be seen stuck to the tail during two months of brooding. They hatch as miniature versions of the adults, growing to seven centimetres in three weeks. Weedy Seadragons are only found in southern Australian waters and have recently been voted as Victoria's Marine State Emblem.
Geological, Hydrological and Landform Features
The Twelve Apostle Marine National Park contains various geological rock types, including limestone, calcarenite, mudstone and sandstone adding to the complexity of the substrate and the range of rocky habitats available. These include platforms with shallow fissures and gutters, small rounded boulders and heavy reefs with sharp steeply sloping ridges greater than two metres in height, some with narrow crevices, and others with wide sand filled gutters. Dramatic arches, walls, caves and canyons are also present.
The Twelve Apostles Marine National Park represents habitats of the cooler waters of western Victoria. However, the most obvious environmental factor is the energy of the waves. The sea is seldom calm with waves pounding in every 10 to 16 seconds from the Southern Ocean. Away from the coast, the seafloor is mainly low rocky reef, with extensive areas of sand and shell rubble.
Leather Kelp (Ecklonia radiata)
Leather Kelp, the deepest growing of the large, brown seaweeds, forms dense forests at depths between 5 and 25 metres that blanket the reefs around the Twelve Apostles. Ecklonia can survive the turbulent conditions, and with their strong holdfast are able to maintain themselves on the reef surface where other seaweeds would be easily ripped off. Beneath the blades of Ecklonia, the surge of the waves and current is dampened and the forest provides shelter for numerous fish species.
Similar to forests on land, Leather Kelp forests are home to a myriad of species. The dominant animals are tiny, grazing, bug-like creatures known as amphipods and over 50,000 can be found in a square metre. Of the 50 or so species that can be found on a single Ecklonia plant, most feed on a film of microscopic plants growing on the kelp blade surface. Amphipods themselves are a source of food for many other fish such as wrasse and seahorses.
Looking After the Park
For the protection of the marine environment, a number of activities are prohibited within the boundaries of Victoria's marine national parks and marine sanctuaries. No fishing, netting, spearing, taking or killing of marine life. All methods of fishing, from the shore or the sea, are prohibited. As users of the marine environment, you can help minimise your impact on these areas by being mindful of the following points:
>>enjoy the marine environment without removing the plants and animals
>>minimise your impact while diving and snorkelling by:
>>being careful to avoid damage to marine life caused by fins
>>developing good skills in buoyancy control
>>securing all gauges and pressure hoses to avoid snagging them on objects
>>take any rubbish home with you - do not dump rubbish into the sea
>>avoid stressing marine life by not chasing or grabbing free-swimming animals
>>exercise great care if approached by large marine animals (including birds) & avoid blocking their paths if moving
>>take care where you anchor your boat (anchor in sand, rubble or mud, avoiding sensitive areas, and use mooring buoys where provided)
>>do not pollute the water with sewage - ensure that if your vessel has an onboard toilet that it has an approved sewage holding facility and that sewage is disposed of appropriately on land
>>take the time to learn more about Victoria's marine animals and plants and the habitats they depend upon
Remember, Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries are NO TAKE ENVIRONMENTS. All objects (artefacts), animals eg. fish and crustaceans, plants, and the seabed are totally protected.
For your own safety, only undertake activities appropriate to your skills and abilities. Take all necessary precautions, be aware of changing conditions, and watch for potential hazards, such as rips. A number of Victorian marine animals are potentially harmful if not treated with respect and care, so ensure that you familiarise yourself with these species. Sunburn and hypothermia are also potentially harmful but easily avoided.
SCUBA diving is a potentially high risk activity and should only be undertaken by
appropriately qualified people that have completed recognised training and certification. Victoria's cool water environments can be extremely challenging to those used to diving in warmer waters so ensure that local knowledge is sought before undertaking a dive in a new location. Dive charter operators can provide some of the best advice on diving in Victoria.
How to Get There
The high energy coastline and rugged cliffs of the coast makes access difficult.
Information for this National Park has been supplied courtesy of Parks Victoria