New South Wales Marine Parks

Warm tropical currents meet and mix with cool temperate seas in our New South Wales marine parks, creating a world class marine environment on the doorstep of our most populated state.


Why are our New South Wales marine parks important?

Acting like national parks in the ocean, marine sanctuaries set aside areas for marine life to be protected from extractive activities like commercial fishing and mining while still remaining open for other activities like swimming, snorkelling, tourism activities and recreational boating. Marine sanctuaries are backed by Australia’s marine science community as a tried and tested way to protect biodiversity and restore fish stocks1. If NSW can increase the amount of coastline and ocean sheltered in marine sanctuaries, we could protect marine life. When we protect marine life, we also protect the industries, communities and cultures that rely on it across the state for generations to come.


Key areas of the NSW marine park estate

Off the coast of New South Wales, warm tropical currents like the East Australian Current meet and mix with cool temperate seas. The mixing creates world class marine environments on the doorstep of our most populated state. A seascape of mountain chains, deep sea canyons, islands and reefs form ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth.

Our New South Wales marine parks are home to a wide variety of species, including the majestic humpback whale, critically endangered grey nurse sharks, the threatened black cod, weedy sea-dragons, blue groper and unique subtropical corals.

The NSW marine park estate is built on the back of five major marine parks along the coast and one offshore at Lord Howe Island. Some parts of these marine parks, the fully protected marine sanctuary zones, provide spectacular safe havens for marine life to recover.

But that isn’t the case for most of the estate. The six large marine parks in NSW waters are multi-use. That means both commercial and recreational fishing is currently permitted in around 80% of most marine parks in NSW and less than 7% of the NSW coastline is fully protected in marine sanctuaries.


Map of the six large marine parks in the NSW marine park estate as of October 2023. Not to exact scale.

Map of the six major marine parks in the NSW marine park estate as of October 2023. Not to exact scale.



  1. David J. Booth and Giglia A. Beretta, Creating a world class Marine Protected Area system – getting New South Wales back on track. Independent Report published by the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

New South Wales marine parks

Divers, snorkelers and birdwatchers return to Lord Howe again and again to see the unique mix of wildlife in the world’s clearest water. Lord Howe Island is recognised internationally on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. It is home to the world’s most southerly coral reef, and a crossroads for ocean species. Five major ocean currents collide here, and the rich variety of water temperatures, nutrient levels and habitats allows a fascinating mix of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate species to survive.

Photo: Galapagos sharks in Comet's Hole, Lord Howe Island, by John Turnbull.

The Cape Byron Marine Park is home to some of NSW’s most iconic species. Humpback whales, dolphins and turtles are regularly spotted from Byron’s sandy beaches. Just offshore from Byron Bay is Nguthungulli (Julian Rocks), two rocky islands that are protected by a large sanctuary zone. This sanctuary zone offers the highest level of protection in NSW to over 1000 marine species, including species like critically endangered grey nurse sharks, manta rays, leopard sharks and sea turtles. As a result of this high-level of high protection, Nguthungulliis now considered one of the best dive sites in Australia.

Photo: Coral cod in Cape Byron Marine Park by Gary Dunnett.

The Solitary Islands Marine Park protects the picturesque coastline between Sandon River, Coffs Harbour and the Solitary Islands. The marine park was declared in 1991 and is one of the oldest in NSW. Both tropical and temperate species thrive here, with over 530 fish species, 90 hard coral species, more than 700 mollusc species and at least 35 shark and ray species. Another 100 coastal and marine bird species also call it home, as well as migrating humpback whales that pass by between May and November.

Sanctuary zones were established at each of the islands to ensure adequate protection. The ‘Fish Soup’ sanctuary zone located at North West Rock is a great example of the role of sanctuary zones in marine parks. The highly protected rocky outcrop is teaming with a diversity of reef fish that help sustain areas of the park with lesser protection through what is known as the ‘spillover’ effect. To the south, the partially protected North Solitary Island is home to the densest coverage of anemone and anemonefish and is habitat for the critically endangered grey nurse shark. The South Solitary Island, also partially protected, acts as the northernmost extent for breeding giant cuttlefish, as well as being critical habitat for the grey nurse shark.

Photo: Black cod in Solitary Islands Marine Park by Brett Vercoe.

The Port Stephens – Great Lakes Marine Park extends from Forster in the north to Birubi Beach in the south and includes a number of offshore islands including Seal Rocks, Broughton Island and Cabbage Tree Island. The marine park also includes a number of river and lake systems, much of which is designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. More than 600 fish species are found here, including the critically endangered grey nurse shark, the great white shark and vulnerable black rockcod. The marine park comprises soft corals, sponge gardens and more than 120 shore birds including species that are endangered in NSW.

Inside the bay, the fully protected sanctuary zone at Fly Point is teaming with marine life. Protected from fishing since 1983, the site is one of NSW’s best shore dives and a favourite for lovers of nudibranchs. It is home to some of the most extensive sponge gardens on the NSW coast. Just outside the bay is Cabbage Tree island, a declared nature reserve and uninhabited island that is critically important to Australia’s rarest endemic seabird, the Gould’s petrel. Its surrounding waters are largely designated as a sanctuary zone. Further offshore, the marine park includes a number of protected sites for the grey nurse shark, including Big Seal, Little Seal, Little Broughton and The Pinnacle.

Photo: Grey nurse sharks and schooling fish in the Port Stephens – Great Lakes Marine Park by Jim Dodd.

On NSW’s south coast, 200kms below Sydney, lies Jervis Bay. A place renowned for its long white beaches and crystal clear waters, this precious bay is a haven for divers and snorkelers alike. It is treasured for its extensive seagrass meadows, dolphins, turtles, weedy sea-dragons, and undersea caves.

Photo: Eastern fiddler ray in Jervis Bay Marine Park by John Turnbull.

Spanning 850 square kilometres, Batemans is the largest and most southern of all of NSW’s marine parks. It is famous for its snorkel and dive site at Montague Island, home to an Australian and New Zealand fur seal colony, the grey nurse shark, and Australia’s only native penguin, the little penguin. This park also offers a rare opportunity to see killer whales.

Photo: Paddle-out to save Batemans sanctuaries in 2020 by Gilliane Tedder.

The NSW Marine Park network is incomplete. The Hawkesbury Shelf Bioregion, encompassing Sydney and the Twofold Shelf) Bioregion, encompassing Eden, have little to no marine park protection.

Sydney’s beaches, bays and waterways are truly iconic - renowned for their beauty both above and below the water, yet less than 1% of the waters are protected. Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve in Sydney’s Northern Beaches is NSW’s premiere ‘education classroom’ for marine sanctuaries. It is brimming with life, easily accessible and loved by the community. Sydney boasts stunning national parks on land and around its coastline, but its oceans have been left behind. There are thriving marine parks to the north and south, as outlined above, but the Sydney region remains a big gap in the NSW Marine Park estate.

Photo: Surgeonfish in Shiprock, Sydney, by Gary Dunnett.