Port Phillip, also commonly Port Phillip Bay or (locally) just the Bay, is a large bay in southern Victoria, Australia. Geographically, Port Phillip is a large marine bay 1,930 km² (476,900 acres) in area which has a coastline length of 264 km (164 miles). The bay is extremely shallow for its size, but mostly navigable. The deepest portion is only 24 m (80 ft), and half the region is shallower than 8 m. Its volume is around 25 km³.
The area around the bay was home to the Wurundjeri people prior to European settlement, while its waters are home to other species of life such as the Australian Fur Seal, whales, dolphins, corals and many species of bird including the waterbird, migratory waders, White-faced Storm-Petrel, Silver Gull, Australian Pelican, Pacific Gull, Australian Gannets and the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.
The first Europeans to enter the bay were the crews of the Lady Nelson, commanded by John Murray and, ten weeks later, the Investigator commanded by Matthew Flinders, in 1802. Subsequent expiditions into the bay took place in 1803 to establish the the first settlement in Victoria, near Sorrento, but was abondoned in 1804. Thirty years later, settlers from Tasmania returned to establish Melbourne, now the state's capital city, at the mouth of the Yarra River in 1835 and Geelong in Corio Bay in 1838. Today Port Phillip is the most densely populated catchment in Australia with an estimated 3 million people living around the bay; Melbourne's suburbs extend around much of the northern and eastern shorelines, and the city of Geelong sprawls around Corio Bay, in the bay's western arm.
About ten weeks after Murray, Matthew Flinders in the Investigator also found and entered the port, unaware Murray had been there. The official history of Nicholas Baudin's explorations in Le Géographe claimed they too had sighted the entrance at that time (30 March 1802) but this is almost certainly a later embellishment or error, being absent from the ship's logs and Baudin's own accounts. As a result of Murray's and Flinders' reports, King sent Lieutenant Charles Robbins in the Cumberland to explore Port Phillip fully. One of his party, Charles Grimes, became the first European to walk right round the bay, and thus to discover the mouth of the Yarra, on 2 February 1803.
King decided to place a convict settlement at Port Phillip, mainly to stake a claim to southern Australia ahead of the French. In October 1803 a party led by Lt-Col David Collins and consisting of about 400 people landed near the modern site of Sorrento, where they established a settlement at Sullivan Bay which they called Hobart. Lack of fresh water and good timber, however, led this, the first attempt at European settlement in Victoria, to be abandoned in May 1804. Collins and party sailed to Tasmania, where they established the modern Hobart. Prior to abandonment one convict, William Buckley, escaped from the settlement in a stolen canoe. Buckley later took up residence in a cave near Point Lonsdale on the western side of the bay's entrance, The Rip.
Port Phillip was then left undisturbed until 1835, when settlers from Tasmania led by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner (who had been at the Sorrento settlement as a child) established Melbourne on the lower reaches of the Yarra. John Batman encountered William Buckley who then became an important participant in negotiations with the local indigenous tribesmen. In 1838 Geelong was founded, and became the main port serving the growing wool industry of the Western District. For a time Geelong rivalled Melbourne as the leading settlement on the bay, but the Gold Rush which began in 1851 gave Melbourne a decisive edge as the largest town in Victoria.
Port Phillip lies in central Victoria separated from Bass Strait by the Bellarine Peninsula to the southwest and Mornington Peninsula to the southeast. It is the largest bay in Victoria and one of the largest inland bays in Australia. The narrow entrance to the bay, called the Rip, between Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean, features strong tidal streams made turbulent by the uneven contours of the seabed. The best time for small craft to enter the Rip is at slack water. Large ships require expert local guidance to enter and exit, provided by the Port Phillip Sea Pilots. There is currently a proposal to deepen the entrance, to allow newer, larger container ships to access Melbourne's docks.
The eastern side of the bay is characterised by sandy beaches extending from St Kilda, Sandringham, Beaumaris, Carrum, and down the Mornington Peninsula to Frankston, Safety Beach/Dromana and Rye to Portsea. Longshore drift carries sand from south to north during winter and from north to south during summer. Cliff erosion control has often resulted in sand starvation, necessitating offshore dredging to replenish the beach. On the western side of the bay there is a greater variety of beach types, seen at Queenscliff, St Leonards, Indented Head, Portarlington, and Eastern Beach.
Numerous sandbanks and shoals occur in the southern section of the bay, and parts of the South Channel require occasional maintenance dredging. Swan Bay, adjacent to Queenscliff is an important feeding ground for waterbirds and migratory waders. The Mud Islands, off Sorrento, are an important breeding habitat for White-faced Storm-Petrel, Silver Gull, Australian Pelican and Pacific Gull. Australian Gannets also breed on navigation beacons in this area, and it also hosts breeding colonies of Australian Fur Seal. Saltmarsh in the northwestern sections of the bay is listed as significant wetlands with the Ramsar Convention and the critically-endangered Orange-bellied Parrot is found at three wintering sites around Port Phillip and the Bellarine Peninsula.
Port Phillip hosts many beaches, most of which are flat, shallow and long, with very small breaks making swimming quite safe. This attracts many tourists, mostly families, to the beaches of Port Phillip during the summer months and school holidays. Water sports such as body boarding and surfing are difficult or impossible, except in extreme weather conditions. Most sandy beaches are located on the bay's northern, eastern and southern shorelines, while the western shorelines host a few sandy beaches, there mostly exists a greater variety of beaches, swampy wetlands and mangroves. The occasional pebble beach and rocky cliffs can also be found, mostly in the southern reaches.
52 environmental groups, recreational fishing groups, and divers' groups formed the "Blue Wedges" group to oppose the proposed channel deepening and dredging. Organised protests occurred in 2005. One of their concerns was the seabed sediments which are being disturbed when the entrance to Port Phillip is dredged, and will not settle again onto the seabed for a long time. This could damage the ecosystem of Port Phillip by preventing sunlight from reaching the algae on the seabed and thus stopping photosynthesis. This may then lead to a dramatic decrease in the dissolved oxygen content of water, i.e. anoxia which can have devastating impacts on marine life.
In December 2007 it was announced that Blue Wedges took action in the Federal Court against the Commonwealth to stop it signing off on the project. The case was heard in January 2008. On 15th January 2008 it was announced that their appeal was dismissed..
Today, the Port of Melbourne has grown to become Australia's busiest commercial port, serving Australia's second largest city and handling an enormous amount of imports and exports into and out of the country. The Port of Geelong also handles a large volume of dry bulk and oil, while nearby Port of Hastings on Western Port handles steel and oil products.
Port Phillip is home to 36 Yacht clubs. It also hosts the Melbourne to Hobart and Melbourne to Launceston Yacht Races. Port Phillip is also home to a number of marinas, including large marinas at St Kilda, Geelong and Brighton.
Port Phillip is also known as a temperate water scuba diving destination. The shore dives from beaches and piers around the Bay provide a wide variety of experiences on day and night dives. Boat diving in Port Phillip provides access to a remarkable variety of diving environments including wrecks, reefs, drift dives, scallop dives, seal dives and wall dives.