Great Lakes Marine Park Port Stephens

One of Australias most extraordinary marine playgrounds the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park is located within the Mid-North Coast. Whether you like to dive, snorkel, boat, fish, surf, swim or explore, you wont believe the incredible holiday experiences that await you in this massive 98,000 ha marine park, which protects some of the states most precious marine creatures and their habitats.

Where the forest meets the sea and its all protected for you and your children for the future. One of the largest connected areas of protected lands on the NSW coast. The parks diverse marine life includes many species of dolphins, turtles, fish, invertebrates, seabirds and seaweeds along with threatened species such as the Goulds petrel, little tern, grey nurse shark and green turtle. Humpback whales travel along the marine park coastline during their annual migration north to breeding grounds. Important oceanic islands, major estuarine wetlands and lake systems feature among a variety of park habitats.

Many significant Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites are located within or adjacent to the marine park including middens, burial sites and traditional campsites. Aboriginal association with the sea and land in the area dates back thousands of years and Indigenous people still gather food in the traditional way.

The park is multiple use and protects marine habitats and species while catering for a wide range of sustainable activities. Visitors and local residents can enjoy eco-tourism activities including fishing, boating, dolphin and whale watching as well as swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and other water sports.

The Port StephensGreat Lakes Marine Park covers an area of approximately 98,000 hectares and includes offshore waters to the 3 nautical mile limit of state waters between Cape Hawke Surf Life Saving Club and Birubi Beach Surf Life Saving Club and all estuarine waters of Port Stephens and the Karuah River, the Myall River, Myall and Smiths Lakes and all of their creeks and tributaries to the limit of tidal influence.

This multiple use Marine Park represents an opportunity to protect some of the states most spectacular and rich marine biodiversity while providing for sustainable use. The outstanding features of the Marine Park include:

  • Broughton Island, the second largest island in NSW, which provides important habitat for the threatened grey nurse shark and black cod;
  • Cabbage Tree Island (John Gould Nature Reserve), the primary breeding site for the threatened seabird Goulds petrel;
  • The majority of islands, reefs, beaches and rocky intertidal areas in the bioregion, providing significant habitats for the diverse fauna and flora, with five areas identified as major habitat sites for the grey nurse shark;
  • Extensive and diverse estuaries and shorelines of Port Stephens and the Great Lakes regions including remarkable features such as the largest drowned river valley in NSW(Port Stephens), the largest brackish barrier lake system in NSW (Myall Lakes), and the largest intermittently open and closed lake in NSW (Smiths Lake);
  • The largest areas of mangrove and saltmarsh in the state, and 5 percent of the seagrass area in NSW;
  • Important socio-economic values including quality recreational fishing and productive commercial fishing grounds, aquaculture, many popular scuba diving sites, and regionally significant tourism activities such as whale and dolphin watching;
  • Many heritage listed sites, such as the spectacular lighthouses at Point Stephens and Seal Rocks;
  • A multitude of historic shipwrecks including the Satara, Oakland, Catterthun,and Macleay.

The four types of zones that are applied in NSW marine parks are sanctuary zones, habitat protection zones, general use zones and special purpose zones.

SANCTUARY ZONES provide the highest level of protection for habitats, animals and plants, ecological processes, natural features and areas of cultural significance by allowing only activities that do not harm plants, animals or habitats. Many recreational activities can be conducted in sanctuary zones including guided tours, boating, surfing, snorkelling, diving and permitted research and educational activities.

HABITAT PROTECTION ZONES help to conserve marine biodiversity by protecting habitat and reducing high impact activities. A range of activities that are of social, commercial and economic importance to the area may continue in habitat protection zones, including recreational fishing, some forms of commercial fishing, tourist activities and fishing competitions. Habitat protection zones prohibit fish and prawn trawling and estuary mesh and estuary haul netting.

GENERAL USE ZONES provide for a wide range of environmentally sustainable activities including both commercial and recreational fishing. General use zones complement other marine park zones and provide an integrated approach to the management and use of the Marine Park. General use zones allow for a variety of activities including trawling but excluding longlining, setlining and droplining. These zones are also found throughout the inlets, bays, estuaries, rivers, creeks and lakes in the Marine Park.

SPECIAL PURPOSE ZONES provide for the specific management of aquaculture, fish-feeding, marinas and other vessel related facilities, commercial and residential facilities, fisheries and aquaculture research at a number of locations throughout the Marine Park.


A variety of activities undertaken in the Marine Park require permits from the Marine Parks Authority including:

  • Commercial activities
  • Collecting for commercial and private aquariums
  • Competitions including line fishing and spearfishing
  • Hovercrafts, airboats and seaplanes
  • Traditional Indigenous fishing use
  • (02) 4984 8270

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