Norfolk Island’s rich and fascinating history, culture and unique environment have long been known. In 2012 the waters around the island were also recognised with the establishment of the Norfolk Marine Park.
Norfolk Marine Park is 700 kilometres long and covers more than 188,000 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean surrounding Norfolk Island. It has depths ranging from the high water mark to the deep abyss 5000 metres below the surface. Under the waves are some of Australia’s highest mountains – called seamounts – which make up the Norfolk Ridge. This ridge connects the land masses of New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and New Zealand.
While state and territory Marine Parks on mainland Australia are close to shore, most Australian Marine Parks (Marine Parks in Commonwealth waters) are generally far offshore and can be difficult to access. The Norfolk Marine Park is the only one you can get to by just stepping off the beach.
The marine life in the park is incredibly diverse and abundant because it sits between the warm waters of the Coral Sea and the cold waters of the Tasman Sea. The mixing of these waters attracts plankton and fish which in turn attracts larger animals such as turtles, whales and tuna. The Marine Park also provides food for a wide variety of seabirds, including Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Frigatebirds and Providence Petrels. Albatrosses can also be seen surfing the wind as they travel huge distances in search of food.
Phillip and Nepean Islands, which are close by, are important breeding sites for seabirds such as Sooty Terns, Grey Ternlets, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Masked Boobys.
Like the island, Norfolk’s waters have immense historical significance with 20 known shipwrecks in the marine park. The most famous, HMS Sirius, lies just offshore in Slaughter Bay. Two years after her historic journey to Sydney Cove as the flagship of the First Fleet, Sirius struck a reef near Kingston pier and sank. Although no one was killed it was a disaster for all of the people on the island who were relying on the food supplies she was carrying. The loss of the Sirius also had major implications for the fledgling Sydney colony as it was one of a limited number of vessels available for support.
Boating, shipping, tourism and recreation are important activities in the Marine Park. Fishers can enjoy fishing close to shore or going on charter fishing trips in search of billfish, trevally, tuna and more. Snorkelling in the lagoon, glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding are other popular pursuits.
To protect the outstanding values of the Norfolk Marine Park, Parks Australia has applied three zones which set out what activities can occur in each zone. Most of the Marine Park is in a Habitat Protection Zone which supports activities such as fishing and diving, as long at the seafloor is not harmed. There is a National Park Zone in the north of the park (about 155 kilometres from Norfolk Island). The National Park Zone offers a high level of protection for conservation features such as canyons, underwater mountains and reefs, meaning that only activities which take nothing from the Marine Park are allowed there.
There is also a Special Purpose Zone in the waters around the island which allows for a wider range of activities. This reflects the ongoing stewardship of these waters by the Norfolk Islanders, and the importance of this area for both conservation and providing a sustainable supply of local, fresh seafood.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 03 Issue 01, 2019. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.