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Phillip Island, Summerland Peninsula and Seal Rocks

Phillip Island is home to some of the most fascinating areas of Victoria’s marine and coastal environment, including the little penguin colony of the Summerland Peninsula, the Seal Rocks fur seal breeding colony, as well as the incredible pinnacles rising up from the deep waters south of Phillip Island.

This diverse and highly productive area includes sandy beaches, kelp habitat, mangrove pockets, saltmarsh and shallow reefs. Phillip Island is the only Victorian breeding site of the Kelp gull, Larus dominicanus, and is also a breeding area for Sooty oyster catchers, Haematopus fuliginosus, and Muttonbirds.

What are the key natural features of this area?

  • Phillip Island’s deep reefs, pinnacles and canyons. These areas support incredibly diverse communities of sedentary invertebrates like sponges, sea tulips and lace corals.
  • The southern coast of Phillip Island is subject to high wave energy and strong south-westerly winds. Strong tides, with significant rise and fall, also influence this region.
  • Seal Rocks is home to one of Australia’s largest seal breeding colonies and is an important Great White Shark feeding area.
  • Reef areas here support important kelp habitat. Kelp forests offer shelter, habitat and food to fish, sea snails, lace corals, sponges, crabs and many other species.
  • The threatened San Remo Marine Community is an intertidal and subtidal marine community with extremely rich marine life. This small area of 600 by 300 metres off the coast near the township of San Remo has incredibly high invertebrate diversity, and the only record of the sea slug Rhodope genus in Australia is from here.
  • Churchill Island Marine National Park is an important roosting and feeding habitat for migratory waders and shorebirds. The intertidal mud flats extending from Rhyll to Newhaven are of State significance, and the area from Rhyll Inlet to Churchill Island is of national significance as part of a group of primary foraging sites for the 32 migratory waders found in Westernport.
  • The basalt coastal cliffs of Phillip Island and the Summerland Peninsula. These have been fractured by the strong wave action and have formed extensive intertidal platforms in the area.
  • The quartzite ridge at Smith beach, along the southern Phillip Island coast, is a significant site and the only example of its kind in Victoria. This platform extends for 10 metres and is covered by water at most stages of the tide.
  • On the southern shore of Phillip Island, within Westernport, bare mud, mangroves, saltmarsh, seagrass meadows and sediment channels provide habitat for a range of important marine fish and invertebrate species. This area is part of the Westernport Ramsar wetlands. The deeper sediment channel habitats are of particular conservation importance as they support communities of sea pens and ‘fossil’ shells which are presently unmapped.
  • The area north of Churchill Island is a significant intertidal mudflat, as is much of Westernport. Seagrasses within the bay trap sediment and cause it to build up. For animals and plants to survive in this muddy environment they must have burrows to allow fresh sea water to bring oxygen to them, or have specialised parts of their bodies, such as the breathing roots or pneumatophores of mangroves, to allow them to breathe air from the surface.
  • The intertidal flats of the Bass River Delta are important bird foraging and roosting sites. Important algal beds and productive seagrass meadows also flourish in the delta.
  • Deep water channels in Westernport. Sea pens, Virgularia mirabilis, are abundant in the here, and three species of ‘living fossil’ shells are abundant in the area but very restricted globally. Brachiopods are found at high density in Churchill Island Marine National Park.
  • Seagrasses in the area are a major food for Black Swans, which eat large amounts of the thick root-like rhizomes that run under the mud. As the seagrass passes through the swan’s body some nutrients are absorbed, but most pass out of the swan to provide food for a wide range of invertebrates. The seagrass habitats are critically important for numerous fish species as an important feeding area and nursery ground. Species known to live in seagrass habitats at different stages of their lives include leather jackets, flounder, King George Whiting, Black Bream, garfish and flathead. The health of seagrasses is important in the productivity of many of our commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Bottlenose dolphins visit the area and other large mammals may pass nearby.

Marine Protected Areas:

Churchill Island Marine National Park