Protecting marine life

You can help protect NSW waterways for future generations by taking extra care around marine animals and plants. Follow these simple rules.

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Marine animals

All native mammals, birds and reptiles are protected in NSW. These include seals, penguins, turtles, whales and dolphins, as well as a wide variety of waterbirds.

You must keep a proper lookout and a safe distance to avoid harming these animals. You must be a minimum distance away when whale and dolphin watching.

Little penguins are an endangered species. Parts of Sydney Harbour have been declared a critical habitat for little penguins, including the Spring Cove area near Manly. You must follow the access, fishing and anchoring restrictions in these areas during the penguin breeding season (July to February).

Noise can also disturb wildlife. Reduce noise around waterbirds and other animals. Keep well clear of any birds or animals that might be feeding or roosting on the shore. If birds take flight when you approach, you're too close.

If you see an animal and there's a risk of collision, put your engine in idle until the animal moves away. Once it's safe, move off slowly and carefully.


Seagrass beds provide food and shelter for a wide variety of fish and invertebrates. They also help bind the sea floor and improve water quality.

To help protect seagrasses:

  • Do not enter shallow, weedy areas – propellers can damage seagrasses.
  • Avoid stirring the sea floor with your propeller. In shallow areas raise your trim and move slowly, or switch off the engine and use oars or a paddle to move to deeper water.
  • Do not anchor on seagrass beds – these often look like darker patches on the sea floor.

See Managing seagrasses.

If your mooring is over a seagrass bed, it's recommended that you use a seagrass-friendly mooring. Or if you need to move your mooring, find out more about private mooring relocation.

Aquatic weeds and other pests

Aquatic weeds can reduce oxygen and sunlight in the water. Heavy weed infestations can overtake native habitats and make it difficult to use the waterway. They can also harm or displace native marine life.

Aquatic weeds include freshwater plants, such as salvinia, cabomba and alligator weed. The marine alga caulerpa taxifolia has been found in several estuaries along the south and central coasts of NSW. It has the potential to overtake native seagrass and overgrow other habitats.

You may be carrying these weeds on your vessel and unknowingly spreading them throughout NSW waterways.

To help stop the spread of weeds and pests:

  • Avoid shallow, weedy areas and places with heavy aquatic plant growth.
  • Avoid local exclusion zones and fishing closures.
  • Inspect ropes, anchors and fishing gear before and after use.
  • Remove marine growth on the hull when your vessel is moored for extended periods.
  • Clean your vessel, trailer and equipment before and after you go on the water.
  • Learn to recognise aquatic weeds and pests, and report them if you see them.

For more information about aquatic pests or to report a suspected infestation, see Stop the spread of aquatic pests and Aquatic pests and diseases on the Department of Primary Industries website.

Bank erosion

The wash from your vessel can erode banks. This can destroy sensitive habitats for native fauna and flora. The more wash, the greater the potential for bank erosion. Find out more about reducing vessel wash.

To help protect banks:

  • Take extra care in sheltered waterways.
  • Avoid creating excessive wash behind your vessel.
  • Slow down if your vessel's wash is causing other vessels to rock, or waves to break or slap on the shore.
  • When towing a person, keep well clear of soft or eroding banks by using more open areas of the waterway.
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