Cottesloe Shark Net
Start - Cottesloe Beach
Length - 850m
Grade - Blue
Terrain - Shark Net and Rocky Groyne
Depth - 1-5m
Time - 1 Hour
Date Snorkelled - 20th March 2021
Best Time - Spring to Autumn
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - Located in the western suburbs of Perth, this popular beach is very accessible with lots of parking. You can either park along Marine Parade or use one of the many car parks near the main strip. There is no trail to follow so you can set your gear down anywhere along the main beach (beware of leaving your valuables unattended) and explore the shark net and groyne.
The Snorkel - Cottesloe Beach is one of the more iconic locations in Western Australia with the white sandy beach, pristine waters and Indiana Tea House all combining to provide a postcard perfect depiction of summer in Australia. It was always a favourite beach of mine during my younger days and I have fond memories of lazing around in the sun after a refreshing dip in the Indian Ocean. Over the years I've returned sporadically, mainly to check out the annual Sculptures by the Sea art exhibition and every visit feels like I'm on holiday.
Back in my day (I'm old), there was no such thing as a shark net at Cottesloe with a swim at your own risk policy in place. Fast forward to 2019 and the Town of Cottesloe decided to erect one stretching from the groyne to just past the famous pylon to ease the anxiety for swimmers during the summer months (it gets taken down from April to October). Whether it was a late reaction to the two people who were killed by shark attacks in the area in the last 20 years or a continuation of Colin Barnett's War on Sharks (he was a mainstay in the state government seat of Cottesloe), I am not sure but here we are. I'd never considered the spot a go-to destination for snorkelling in Perth but now I've upgraded my camera and frequently scroll through the Perth Snorkelling FaceSpace group, my list of places to explore is growing. One of the reasons I wanted to check out this spot were some photos posted showing large schools of various fish hanging out just beyond the shark net. Like the artificial installations at the Coogee Maritime Trail, the net attracts all kinds of marine life as they seek shelter and food. With that in mind I was keeping an eye out for the right time to visit with low or easterly winds, a small swell and good lighting. A hot, humid and relatively still summer over 2021 meant the afternoons had served up several good opportunities to get out and have a snorkel where usually there would be a stiff sea breeze. Convincing Caris to join me on this trip, mainly to look after my new DSLR while I was in the water, she was happy to come along and camp out on a beach chair while I checked out the area.
With Sculptures by the Sea still in full swing, we had a bit of a look around (we'd already been once already this summer) and Caris settled near her favourite piece, The Boab. I headed into the water near the groyne and started exploring the submerged rocks. Unfortunately visibility was pretty poor but there was still life around in the form of Red Lipped Morwongs and a small school of silver fish. My plan was to head out to the shark net and then follow that all the way around to the pylon and return to the groyne to explore the southern side over the shark net. Arriving at where the net meets the groyne, I wasn't seeing too much life around but then a school of small bait fish appeared out of nowhere and I followed them around trying to get some decent shots. As I headed along the edge of the net I started spotting Sea Nettles and tried to keep well out their way. With the poor visibility I was constantly scanning for these floating menaces and it kind of distracted me from searching for different fish along the shark net. When I did see something cool, there was always a Sea Nettle in the way so had to do some creative diving to avoid being stung. I made it to the pylon and despite the murky conditions, I had some cool finds including a large black Sea Hare, a toxic blob that are particularly harmful to dogs.
After a bit of an exploration I headed back to the groyne but the light was fading and the visibility remained poor so I joined Caris on the beach to watch the sunset, vowing to return. Return I did a few days later with friends Aron and Jen to what I hoped would be better conditions. On a busy Saturday morning we headed out and did the same little loop, this time with less stingers in the water but with visibility not much better. We spotted what I think was the same black Sea Hare near the pylon and a few different fish I had not seen a few days prior. Eventually we headed back to the groyne where I was surprised to see the visibility had improved somewhat near the shark net. Along the groyne was still terrible as the many lap swimmers that take a breather on the rocks kick up a lot of rubbish. With Jen afraid of sharks and Aron not feeling well, I jumped over the shark net to explore the other side, along with the southern edge of the groyne. While visibility was still poor, I was happy to see a mass of schooling Western Pomfred just chilling a few metres off the net. A group of fellow snorkellers were in the area admiring the schools so I didn't feel so bad about not having a dive buddy nearby.
I started taking many photos and was surprised to see them barely move as I got closer, something you can see in the short video posted at the bottom of the page. The camera was having difficulty focussing on the fish and not the floating debris so getting clear shots was very hard but I managed to get a few by diving down a couple of metres. In a cool effect, the fish seemed to be schooling in layers with the Western Pomfred on top, some Buffalo Bream in the middle and some much bigger darker fish a bit below them. I didn't get any good shots but at a guess they would have been maybe 60-80cm long. Moving out towards the southern section of the groyne, the rocks drop off to the white sand and there are plenty of spots where the fish like to play hide and seek. I had a bit of a look around but there wasn't too much life around so I headed back to the schooling fish. Frolicking among the Pomfreds was great fun a second time but over an hour in the water was enough for me so made my way way back along the groyne, saying hello to a few Morwongs and photographing the various shells stuck to the rocks. As I understand it, there is much better limestone reef north of the pylon to explore so I'll be back next summer to check it out, updating this page when I do.