The area around Bemm Reef and Point Hicks in East Gippsland contains some of Victoria’s most interesting and beautiful reefs. These underwater crags are known for their stunning sea-life.
The landscape of the area includes the prominent Point Hicks, with highly exposed shores and steeply sloping intertidal shores, flat reef, ridges, bommies, gutters and sand gutters, high wave action and kelp beds. These natural environments support a truly sensational variety of sea creatures.
What are the key natural features of this area?
- The Bemm Reef area is a hotspot for biological productivity. This is due to cold water upwellings that frequently occur during summer along the coast between Lakes Entrance and Gabo Island, which changes the temperature from 20-23ËšC to 14-15ËšC. This introduces considerable nutrients to coastal water and draw water from below 100m depth up the canyons, resulting in the region being a hotspot of biological productivity.
- The section of Croajingolong Coast from Point Ricardo to Rame Head consists of sandy beaches with dunes punctuated by occasional rocky points, including Cape Conran, Pearl Point and Point Hicks. There are outlets to streams and creeks along each of these beaches, with beach barriers creating a number of estuarine lagoons. The larger lagoons and inlets include Sydenham Inlet (Bemm River) and Tamboon Inlet (Cann River).
- Point Hicks is a prominent headland with highly exposed shores on the south and east. The intertidal shore at Point Hicks slopes steeply away from shore, and is dissected with gutters and gulches. The high wave action is made more turbulent by bommies and offshore barrier reefs. Wingan Inlet and The Skerries, a group of low reefs immediately offshore, are of high conservation value.
- Flat reef, ridges, bommies, gutters and sand gutters are common in this region and subtidal reefs support a variety of kelp beds. These areas include Bemm River, Petrel Point and Island Point.
- Sensation Reef (just west of Point Hicks) and reefs at Point Hicks are highly complex. These reefs have structures steep walls, bommies, pinnacles and gutters. The top of Sensation reef supports important Ecklonia kelp forests. Immediately below these swaying underwater forests, the granite slopes are home to a variety of amazing invertebrates and diverse algae, which slowly changes into sedentary invertebrate habitat deeper down.
- Point Hicks has a variety of reef structures, including flat platform reefs bordered by sand, pinnacles and bommies, gutters, large boulders and highly dissected slopes. The subtidal reefs are very exposed, and important kelp beds are found here as well. The front reefs and Whaleback Rock have high relief gutters and a large area of colourful, sedentary invertebrate habitat on the vertical walls.
- Besides subtidal reef, the environment around Bemm Reef and Point Hicks includes attractive intertidal rock platforms, and offshore sands. The seafloor drops away rapidly from shore, descending to approximately 90 m depth, one of the deepest marine areas within Victoria.
- Bemm Reef is home to significant filter-feeding communities and supports a great diversity of seaweeds.
- The Point Hicks region has a high biomass and diversity of thallose red algae understorey species, which can also form turfs where there is a break in the kelp canopy.
- Diving around Whaleback Rock or Sensation Reef is a truly amazing experience. The water is often very clear, sunlight glinting off schools of silver fish. As you drift down, you feel dwarfed by massive granite boulders. A forest of gently swaying brown seaweeds covers the seafloor. But if you move the seaweed fronds aside, a remarkable mat of colourful sponges, sea-squirts, sea-moss and sea-fans of all shapes and sizes appear before you. Orange, red, purple, white and brown, the sponges intertwine around each other, forming reticulate patterns, knots, balls, cups, carpets and terraces. Many other creatures are visible between the sponges, under rocks, and poking out of the seaweed holdfasts. There are numerous brightly coloured seastars, brittle stars, abalone, fan worms, large sea shells, hermit crabs and beautiful delicate nudibranchs (sea-slugs). Fish include schools of Butterfly Perch, Silver Sweep, and Long-Finned Pike with Banded Morwongs common amongst the deeper boulders.
- Many animals occurring here will not grow or survive in the cooler waters further west. The most obvious of these is the large Black Sea-Urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii that mows down the seaweeds near its shelter, creating an open environment of pink coralline-encrusted rocks.
- Some of the species that might be encountered include the Banded Morwong Cheilodactylus spectabilis, a large, docile and curious fish growing to over 75cm; the Feather Star Cenolia trichoptera, a shy and ancient animal related to seastars and sea-urchins; the Crayweed Phyllospora comosa, a brown kelp growing to over 2 metres and providing and understorey for small snails, tiny crustaceans, worms and lace corals, to name a few. Southern Australia’s waters hold the greatest diversity of large brown kelps anywhere in the world.
- The area’s rich marine life makes snorkelling and scuba diving a popular pursuit in the region.
Marine Protected Areas:
Point Hicks Marine National Park
Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary