Port Phillip Bay covers 1,930 square kilometres (around 193,000 hectares) and the shore stretches roughly 264 kilometres. Although it is extremely shallow for its size, most of the bay is navigable. The deepest section is only 24 metres, and half of it is shallower than eight metres. It was formed around 15,000 years ago as sea levels rose.
The area around Port Phillip covers the lands of various parts of the Kulin nation: with the Wathaurong to the west, the Wurundjeri to the north and Boonwurrung to the south and east. The creation of the Bay is recorded in Bunurong oral history. In the mythology of the Woiworung and Bunurong people, the flooding of Port Phillip Bay was attributed to an act of the creation ancestor, Bunjil.
It’s waters are home to a wonderful range of species, from the common to the rare. These include the Australian Fur Seal, whales, dolphins, temperate corals, and many species of bird including 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. Later expeditions into the bay took place in 1803 to establish the first settlement in Victoria, near Sorrento, but this was abandoned in 1804. Thirty years later, settlers from Tasmania returned to establish Melbourne, at the mouth of the Yarra River in 1835. Geelong was established in Corio Bay in 1838.
Today Port Phillip is the most densely populated catchment in Australia, with almost four 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. The Port of Melbourne has grown to become Australia’s busiest commercial port.
As the city keeps growing, so do the pressures on the Bay and surrounding ecosystems.
Melbourne has opted to be a sprawling and low density metropolis, following the model of most US cities, rather than a more compact European style city. Therefore, our physical footprint is enormous compared with many other cities – for instance, the physical size of our city is bigger than London, which has roughly double our population.
We also have large individual ecological footprints – that is, we tend to live lifestyles that consume large amounts of resources, again increasing our impacts on our local ecosystems.