There’s a Marine Reserve just off Manly Beach that boasts sea life as wild as its Corso nightlife.
Less than 1km from the sticky floors of the ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Shark Bar’, lies a different kind of club, one full of actual sharks.
The following photos were taken during what was only my first and second snorkel at Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve – a stretch of water spanning from South Manly Beach around to Shelly Beach headland.
After just two hours of snorkelling, I’d seen more sealife here than in my previous 24 years living, surfing, and swimming on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
The Aquatic Reserve covers an area of approximately 20 hectares. Thanks to Google I know one hectare is 2.47 football fields, so after some not very quick math, you’re looking at nearly 50 football fields worth of unsullied underwater delight.
Despite the metaphor and manicured seagrass, you can’t play football here. But more importantly, you’re also not permitted to fish by any method or otherwise harm or collect any marine organisms (dead or alive) within the reserve.
Back in 1993 there were 14 so-called ‘intertidal protected areas’ and in 2002 six of those sites including Cabbage Tree were permanently protected and turned into aquatic reserves.
As a result, there’s now been more than 160 species of fish and 50 species of marine invertebrates spotted within the Reserve.
Not only did I discover the wonder of this Marine Reserve during lockdown, I also learnt during a Saturday night Zoom trivia, that the Eastern Blue groper is the ‘official fish of NSW’.
This happened following the death of the unoriginally named ‘Bluey’, a famous groper that was infamously speared at Clovelly in 2002.
These gropers are so docile, they practically bumped into the lens of my underwater housing. They tend to hang around the rockier reef to the south of the Reserve towards Fairy Bower Beach and you’d be hard-pressed not to see one if you spend more than 30 minutes out there.
To support such a variety of sea life there are seven types of habitat within the Reserve from the sandy beaches, rocky shores and rocky reefs, to kelp, seagrass beds, sandy seabed and open water.
Photos were taken by Matt Wiseman with a Canon 5d Mark iv, and 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens within an AquaTech underwater housing (a predominantly surf photography setup).
Shot on manual: 1/1500s, f/8, ISO800
If you do visit, remember not to touch any marine animals and plants and take only photos and memories home with you.