The city of Melbourne is located by the estuary of the Yarra River, where it flows into the large natural bay of Port Philip. The bay is shallow, with approximately half of its area being less than 8 meters deep and a maximum depth of 24 meters, but it is mostly navigable. Many beaches, points and smaller bays are found around the shores of Port Philip, and there are also a number of islands within the bay, some of which have been artificially constructed. The beaches are mostly sandy, but along the western shore, there are also mangrove and wetland swamps. One interesting feature of the bay is Portsea Hole, a steep depression formed from a drowned valley that was once part of the Yarra River. Portsea Hole is part of the Marine National Park of Port Philip Heads, which offers protection to a number of habitats along the Melbourne coastline as well as to the animals that use them. The other areas that are included in the park are Point Lonsdale, Point Nepean, Mud Islands, Swan Bay and Pope's Eye. Pope's Eye is a site of historical interest, being the foundations of a planned island fort that was never completed. It is now an important site for wildlife, with Australasian Gannets roosting upon it and kelp, soft coral and sponges inhabiting the reef. Many species are seen in Port Philip, including whales, dolphins and the Australian Fur Seal. A diverse range of birds use the bay, including the Orange-bellied Parrot, which is a critically endangered species. Wildlife observation towers have been placed around the bay.
Melbourne is located on the most southerly coast of the Australian mainland, in the state of Victoria. There are a number of different types of geographic feature along the Victorian coastline. There are active cliffs at Port Campbell, basal cliffs combined with steep slopes at Cape Otway, stranded cliffs at Gippsland Lakes and a stretch of engineered coast at Port Melbourne. There are also areas where the coast is low and forms wetlands and tidal estuaries, as well as transgressive sand dunes. The coastline also features a coastal barrier at Ninety Mile Beach. In addition to Port Philip, there is another central bay, Western Port. The rugged coastline of this region is a popular tourist destination, with many people choosing to follow the Great Ocean Road along it.
The Tasman Sea, Bass Strait and Southern Ocean all exist along the coastline of Victoria, which stretches for approximately 2000 kilometers. The coast in this region is protected by over 20 sanctuaries and marine parks.
Many species of fish are found along the Melbourne coastline. Port Phillip has high populations of a number of fish species, including flatheads, Snappers, mullet, garfish and Australian Salmon. Morwong are also found in the bay. Both recreational and commercial fishing are common along the Melbourne coast. Recreational anglers frequently fish from boats in Port Philip, for example. The state of Victoria is also currently developing an Aboriginal Fishing Strategy that will take into account the traditional practices of the Aboriginal communities in the state.
Commercial fishing along the Melbourne coastline plays an important role in the rural economy. According to the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, commercial fishing brings approximately $180 million of seafood into the state's ports each year. About $130 million of this seafood is sourced from fisheries that are managed by the state. The rest comes from Tasmanian and Commonwealth fisheries. The industry is highly regulated along the Melbourne coast in order to preserve the fisheries for future generations.
The production of high value species rather than high tonnages is characteristic of the fisheries along the Victorian coast. Abalone and rock lobster are two of the most valuable exports. The scallop fishery has been restricted to the Bass Strait since 1996, due to concerns over the environmental damage being caused by dredging for scallops in the Port Phillip Bay. Small-scale commercial fisheries in the bays and inlets along the coast are mainly important for the domestic market.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority identifies the fisheries off the Melbourne coast as: Bass Strait Central Zone Scallop, Eastern Tuna and Billfish, Skipjack Tuna, Small Pelagic, Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark, Southern Bluefin Tuna and Southern Squid Jig.
Ocean observation around the Australian coast is managed by IMOS, the Integrated Marine Observing System. A network of monitoring stations, buoys, ships and volunteer groups take measurements on a regular basis. Other researchers use autonomous underwater vehicles and other means of investigating the ocean environment to perform less regular observation. Many different types of data are gathered, including measurements relating to the weather, temperature, barometric pressure, sea level, wind and waves, currents and salinity of the water. The Melbourne coast is monitored as part of the Southern Australia IMOS or SA-IMOS. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO both play a role in IMOS.
SAIMOS is responsible for a number of monitoring programs along the Melbourne and southern Australian coast, including an automated monitoring station on the Spirit of Tasmania, a ship that sails the Bass Strait. SAIMOS have also set up a monitoring station that can collect information about the movements of fish that have been marked with special acoustic tags.
Ocean observation provides essential information for weather prediction, environmental and climate research and fishery management.
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