Daniel is a library manager in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In his spare time he writes for outdoor magazines and coordinates a monthly bushwalk where a dip in the sea or a creek is usually an option. His working day rarely ends without a swim in the ocean.
There are several Shelly Beaches around the country, but this one is near Manly in New South Wales. The best way to get there is to walk from Manly along the Marine Parade. It’s a beautiful twenty-minute walk along the Cabbage Tree Bay. The subtle eco-sculptures along the path reveal a little bit about the animals that inhabit the area: Weedy Seadragons, Gloomy Octopus, Little Penguin, Long-nosed Bandicoots. When looking at the sculptures, don’t be surprised to see a few water dragons staring back you: some of them are friendly enough to allow you a snapshot. There are also sculptures showing the types of activity that take place at the beach: snorkelling, scuba diving and surfing opposite the headland where the ocean swell breaks over the rocky reef. When the winds are south to south-westerly, great surfing conditions are produced.
The area was declared an Aquatic Reserve in 2002. NSW Fisheries had been looking to identify aquatic reserves along the shoreline and through a community consultation back in May 2001, decided to declare this twenty hectare marine area a “No Take” Aquatic Reserve, thus protecting its biodiversity. The place has thrived since then, attracting more and more visitors all year round. Shelly Beach has a lot to offer.
Every morning at 7:00am, members of a swimming squad calling themselves Bold & Beautiful put on their pink swimming caps and swim from Manly to Shelly and back. In 2012 these swimmers couldn’t believe their eyes when they came across a southern right whale; one of those rare occasions when the swim is happily paused. The lucky swimmers that morning swam with the whale for an hour and made headlines around the world.
The permanent marine residents of the Bay are greeted every morning (and if opportunity lends itself even photographed or videoed) by the swimmers. The giant cuttlefish which makes rare appearances has been successfully captured by their cameras, and so too the catfish, stingrays and a variety of sharks like Dusky Whalers and Port Jacksons.
However, blue gropers seem to have the largest following among swimmers and divers. Their friendliness, combined with their inquisitiveness makes them easy to spot and observe. There’s a healthy population of them around Shelly and Fairy Bower and they can be spotted any time of the day. This much-loved fish (which is also the official fish of NSW) can live up to 35 years. Gropers are all born female and later, as needed, can change sex to ensure their continued survival.
The westerly aspect of the reserve provides an environment sheltered from southerly and easterly swells and winds, and so can be used for educational activities organised by local schools and the Manly Environment Centre. During summer holidays there are sometimes more than thirty scuba divers in the area and hundreds of swimmers. Regular ocean swimming events like the Cole Classic also take place there. People walking down from North Head can descend to Shelly and finish their walk with a splash and a cool off on a hot day.
It’s estimated that there are more than 160 species of marine fish and 50 species of invertebrates in the reserve, at least five of them endangered.
Dave Thomas, the founder of the Manly Eco Divers, was outraged when he heard that the reserve may be at risk, as the Minister looked at the benefits of fishing in these waters. The community sent a strong message by demonstrating back in February 2014 that they would never allow that to happen.
The significance of The Cabbage Tree Bay is inside out: the place is as beautiful as it was a hundred years ago when the early settlers used it for bathing, fishing and picnicking. Aborigines have lived here for time immemorial.
The relationships and interactions of people, whether locals or visitors, within the reserve – especially over the last twelve years – is something that cannot be underestimated. You can count on Shelly’s beautiful creatures to be there when you go for a dip. You get to know the marine life gradually, to know where to spot your favourite marine creature. After all, we’re neighbours and like all good neighbours we should get to know each other. Being the only beach facing west on the east coast, you can witness the last beams of the sun while relaxing in your beach chair or reading a book.
If there’s a monetary value that one could put on The Cabbage Tree Bay, perhaps “priceless” is the correct estimate.