There are 11 sanctuary zones in Encounter Marine Park, each one unique and designed to protect important habitats, marine species, breeding grounds or important refuge areas. These are important conservation areas where fishing and all other extractive activities are not allowed.
Port Noarlunga Reef Sanctuary Zone
This rich reef, protected since 1971, is one of South Australia’s most popular scuba diving and snorkelling locations. A significant barrier reef system made of limestone, it has abundant invertebrate animal and fish life including large schools of reef fish, spotted wobbegongs, blue groper, blue devil fish and dolphins. Leafy sea dragons have also been recorded here. It also boasts an underwater diving trail! The jetty is also popular for fishing (the end of the jetty is within the sanctuary zone and fishing is not allowed).
Onkaparinga Wetland Sanctuary Zone
This zone includes part of an important samphire wetland estuary that helps protect fish nurseries and bird feeding and resting habitats. Activities include walking, kayaking and bird watching.
Aldinga Reef Sanctuary Zone
A huge intertidal reef platform, exposed at low tide, provides an important feeding area for shorebirds and reveals beautiful rock-pools, providing for marine education. Protected since 1971, Aldinga Reef includes one of the best scuba diving sites near Adelaide – the spectacular ‘Drop-Off’ at Snapper Point.
Carrickalinga Cliffs Sanctuary Zone
Spectacular cliffs frame this sanctuary zone which supports some of the highest diversity of reef fish species recorded anywhere in South Australia. Some of the extensive seagrass meadows of Yankalilla Bay are also conserved within this sanctuary zone. Kayaking, boating, snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities.
Rapid Head Sanctuary Zone
The cliffs of Rapid Head are simply spectacular. White-bellied sea eagles and other birds of prey have been sighted here. Below the cliffs, the rocky coastline is home to a small colony of Australian sea lions and long-nosed fur seals. Under the water the rocky coast forms beautiful reef habitats supporting resident reef fish such as blue devils, harlequin fish and blue groper. Further to sea the reefs link with seagrasses and sandy plains, conserving a wide variety of habitats. Scientists consider this area to be of high conservation importance, a critical ecological ‘stepping stone’ linking species of the lower gulf with those of the open southern ocean coastline. The former warship HMAS Hobart was purposely scuttled to provide one of Australia’s best shipwreck dives and lies within the northern part of the sanctuary zone in 30m of water. Nearby, the Rapid Bay Jetty is world renowned for diving with the iconic leafy sea dragon, South Australia’s marine emblem.
Encounter Bay Sanctuary Zone
This zone protects part of the nationally significant Encounter Bay whale aggregation area at Bashams Beach. Southern right whales visit this coastline for annual mating and birthing activities between May and September each year, making it a great location to view whales from the shore-based viewing platform. Offshore, the sanctuary zone conserves large areas of deep water reef habitats.
Coorong Beach North Sanctuary Zone
This zone conserves marine habitat of the northern Coorong marine ecosystems and is culturally valuable to the Ngarrindjeri people.
Bay of Shoals Sanctuary Zone
This zone conserves a regionally significant sheltered embayment on Kangaroo Island, harbouring extensive seagrass meadows that support the larval, juvenile and adult stages of a number of commercially and recreationally important fish species, such as King George whiting. The intertidal flats are an important feeding ground for migratory shorebirds. The bay also provides feeding and breeding habitat for a resident pair of endangered osprey.
Pelican Lagoon Sanctuary Zone
Pelican Lagoon on Kangaroo Island is a regionally unique coastal marine lagoon and is considered a hotspot for marine biodiversity because of its diverse and productive range of habitats. There are sponge gardens, sandy tidal channels and seagrass meadows that provide nursery areas for fish species, such as King George whiting, southern garfish and Western Australian salmon. Protected since 1914, Pelican Lagoon is thought to be the oldest marine protected area in South Australia, and is a popular area for bird watching and kayaking.
Sponge Gardens Sanctuary Zone
This zone is located off the north-eastern coast of Kangaroo Island, in an area where the cliffs (over 50 m high) drop steeply into deep water. Along the base of the cliffs are fringing reefs which are home to a huge diversity of fish and invertebrates. In some areas, the reef extends further offshore and forms the only known shallow water example of a deep water marine invertebrate community in South Australia. Beyond that is a section of one of the two known deep water trenches in South Australia. Strong tidal currents flowing through Backstairs Passage have scoured out this trench, and in this deep water huge sea sponges grow (up to 1 m in diameter). This area is regarded as a place of national (and potentially global) importance.
The Pages Sanctuary Zone
The North and South Pages Islands are the only offshore islands within the Encounter Marine Park and are an important example of an offshore, exposed, rocky reef ecosystem. The islands are home to the largest breeding colony of the threatened Australian sea lion in the world, supporting approximately one quarter of the world population. This sanctuary zone protects the area around the North Pages Island, while the islands themselves are protected by The Pages Conservation Park.