Marine Life / Sydney Diving

Shiprock – over 130 species of fish

Last week the NSW government announced funding for series projects including $200,000 to Sutherland Shire Council to provide access steps into Shiprock Reserve. Back in about 1998 a new set of stairs was to have been constructed here by Sutherland Shire Council using funds provided by the Federal Government’s Coastcare program but the Council abandoned the project. This plan was revived in early 2010 and it looks like the stairs and a bottom landing, this funding will mean the project will make access to the site much safer and easier than the current “Goat Track”.
Water view
Shiprocknamed because of the enormous rock that sits up out of the water looking just like the bow of a ship.

The smallest aquatic reserve in NSW, Shiprock which lies on the mouth of the Hacking River, boasts of an eco-system which is more reminiscent of open coast rather than a sheltered estuary system.  Despite it’s diminutive size Shiprock Aquatic reserve supports an extraordinary variety and abundance of plants and animals.’Encrusting organisms’ cover virtually every square centimetre of Shiprock reef. These encrusting organisms are plants and animals which attach themselves to any available solid surface on the reef.

Old Wives

Old Wives on the Ship Rock Wall


The Old Wife is easily recognised by its distinctive shape and colouration. It has a deep body, and two separate dorsal fins, the second being sickle-like.

The body is silver-white to brown and has six to eight black bands of variable width.

Juveniles are more elongate than adults and have a blotched colour pattern and a white-rimmed spot on the soft dorsal fin.

The Old Wife was given its rather derogatory name in reference to the sound it makes by grinding its teeth after it is caught.

 Shiprock  is a wall dive, which means there is a steep wall which runs for some distance along the channel. As a result of the sandbar opposite, the channel of water is quite narrow and fast running – a unique combination providing an ideal environment for soft-coral growth, fish, invertebrates, etc. over 130 species of fish have been recorded here.

Decorator Crab

Decorator Crab found on the wall at shiprock


Once a suitable covering is found, the Decorator Crab snips it off with its pincers, coats the end with a special gland secretion that hardens in seawater, and deliberately places it onto its carapace. The crab continues the process until it is sufficiently covered. The algae continue to grow once attached, helping the concealment.

The dive is very easy providing it is done on slack tide (best entry time is 10-15 minutes prior to high tide). From the entry, simply sink down into about 3m of water and head out in an easterly direction. Swim out over sand for about 6-7 metres and then you will see the wall, drop over the wall into about 15m of water. Most divers will head to the south of the wall first. If you head out to the larger bommies off the main wall and get disorientated you simply head west and you will hit the main wall again. A good navigation marker and unique of the dive is the ‘Bubble Cave’ – a small cave inside an overhang. There’s room for two divers to stick their heads out of the water and have a chat. It’s not a good idea to breath too much of the air in there – inhale off your reg and talk/exhale into the cave. The bubble cave is marked by a flat rock running out from the main wall and an overhang. Its not too far from the start of the dive.


The site has many Octopus


If you are interested in diving shiprock then check out our schedule of FREE divemaster led dives.

 Fish on wall at Shiprock

Photos from Tim Scowen & Christian Junginger 



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