Introducing Swan Bay

Swan Bay is an internationally significant wetland that lies between Queenscliff and St Leonards and near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay

Swan Bay by the numbers

Area of water
30 km2

Water volume:
40,000 m3

up to 2 metres

Area of intertidal
flats at low tide:
1200 hectares

Intertidal water
7000–8000 m3

Water temperature:
Winter 11.2oC.
Summer 20.5oC

Catchment area:
170 km2

What is special about Swan Bay?

  • Swan Bay is one of the most intact wetland and bird habitats in Port Phillip Bay.
  • Swan Bay has been recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
  • Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park and Edwards Point Wildlife Reserve protect Swan Bay’s significant natural values.
  • Swan Bay’s habitats support nearly 200 bird species.
  • Swan Bay is visited by thousands of migratory shorebirds each October. Swan Bay and Mud Islands are Victoria’s second-ranked migratory shorebird site after Corner Inlet. Australia has signed international agreements with China, Japan and Korea to protect these birds along their flight path.
  • The seagrass meadows in Swan Bay are some of the largest in Port Phillip Bay. They provide an important habitat for many fish, crustaceans, worms and other marine life. They are also nursery area for several species of fish, including King George Whiting.
  • The critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot visits Swan Bay in winter and early spring to roost and feed in the coastal saltmarsh.
  • Threatened coastal moonah woodland grows in Edwards Point Wildlife Reserve, on Swan Island and along the southern shore of Lake Victoria (part of the Swan Bay wetlands and the Ramsar site).
A bird’s-eye view of Swan Bay

Bare sand and seagrass meadows off the beach at Edward’s Point

Duck Island with Swan Island in the distance

Lake Victoria with ‘The Point’ canal estate and Swan Bay in the distance

Saltmarsh and dune plants on the tip of Edward’s Point

Sand dunes, beach and seagrass meadows at Edward’s Point

Tip Island

Tip island with The Narrows and Port Phillip Heads in the distance

Tip Island, Burnt Point and Lakers Cutting

Yarram Creek estuary with marine algae, seagrass meadows and bare sand and mud in the foreground

Aerial photos supplied by a friend of the Swan Bay Environment Association

The what and where of Swan Bay

Swan Bay is a shallow coastal lagoon between Queenscliff and St Leonards on the Bellarine Peninsula. It is a 30-minute drive from Geelong and a short walk from Queenscliff.

Swan Island, Duck Island and Edwards Point partly separate Swan Bay from Port Phillip Bay.

The catchment of Swan Bay covers the eastern part of the Bellarine Peninsula and is drained by Yarram Creek, Frederick Mason Creek and several other intermittent creeks. Lake Victoria and Freshwater Lake are also in the bay’s catchment. Both are protected in the Lonsdale Lakes Nature Reserve managed by Parks Victoria.


Why is it called ‘Swan’ Bay?

More than 3000 Black Swans can be seen on the bay in summer and autumn. Numbers like this must have impressed Lieutenant John Murray when he explored Port Phillip Bay in February 1802. His journey’s log often refers to the bird, which had become a major food source for him and his crew.

The large island off Queenscliff he named Swan Island, the bay it protected he called Swan Harbour. Two months later Matthew Flinders rowed into Swan Harbour and renamed it Swan Pond, perhaps out of frustration, as the ‘harbour’ was far too shallow for ships. Now it is known as Swan Bay.