Pope's Eye and Seals Snorkel

Swim with the Seals!

On this tour, your school group with discover just how diverse Port Phillip Bay's marine ecosystem can be! And they'll get a chance to snorkel with our friendly Fur Seals, always a highlight of their school camp! These playful creatures are always happy to play with humans, mimicking students, playing chase and even gracefully jumping out of the water!

Read on for more information on Pope's Eye and our local ecosystem!

The Popes Eye component of the Marine National Park is located approximately 5 km north east of Portsea, just a 15-minute boat ride away! Popes Eye is an artificial environment made of bluestone boulders that have been laid in a semi-circular ring which rise approximately 2.5 metres above the surface at low tide. Originally intended to become one of the fortresses guarding the entrance to Port Phillip but never completed, this structure provides a safe anchorage for pleasure craft and the substrate for a rich community of animals and plants that attach to the rocks and associated fish fauna. Inside the ring water depth is only around 1.5m but outside the water drops to a depth around 10m.

On the tops of the rocks are extensive beds of brown kelps including both Giant Kelp and also Leathery Kelp. These species create a forest like environment. Beneath the kelp a vast array of colourful encrusting algae and sedentary organisms such as molluscs of many types, seastars, feather stars, sea urchins, sponges, sea squirts and soft corals adorn the rocks, making it in some respects, an artificial microcosm of the Heads reef environment.

The site is an important breeding site for Australasian Gannets which nest on the platform and rocks above the water, one of the few known sites where Gannets breed on a human made structure in the world. Australian Fur Seals are often seen in the area. Because of its unique shape and protection from tidal currents Popes Eye is one of the most accessible snorkelling and dive sites in the Bay with many people learning to SCUBA dive having this site as there first open water dive. Popes Eye has also been the only fully protected marine environment within Port Philip for the last twenty years and as a consequence there are large numbers of animals present, particularly fish.

Creature Features

Western Blue Devilfish (Paraplesiops meleagris)
Against the backdrop of the bright reds, oranges, yellows and whites of Port Phillip's sponge gardens, the vivid sapphire body and iridescent blue spots of the pouting Blue Devilfish is stunning. A favourite with scuba divers, this inquisitive fish rarely ventures beyond its home ledge, crevice or small cave. It is believed that the male guards the eggs that are laid by the female well back in the crevice. Western Blue Devilfish grow to around 30 centimetres in length and are found at depths between 10 and 45 metres. The population of Blue Devilfish at Port Phillip Heads is thought to be the largest in Victoria and the fish is near the eastern extent of its range here.

Verco's Nudibranch (Tambja verconis)
Verco's Nudibranch is just one of the 400 species of nudibranchs found in Australian waters. The name of the group means 'bare gills' and Verco's Nudibranch displays these as feathery plumes on its back. The animal's striking colouration signals its distasteful characteristics to fish - acidic defence glands in the skin making it unpalatable or even poisonous. Verco's Nudibranch preys almost exclusively upon a bushy, green colony of animals known as the bryozoan Bugula dentata. If you look closely near this bryozoan, you can sometimes find the nudibranch's orange eggs in their girdle of jelly. Verco's Nudibranch was named after the prominent South Australian marine naturalist and surgeon, Dr Joseph Verco. They reach 13 centimetres in length and live at depths between two and 36 metres.