Pope's Eye

Pope's Eye is the uncompleted foundation for an island fort intended to defend the entrance to Port Phillip in the state of Victoria, Australia. It is less than a kilometre south-west of the former Chinaman's Hat.

It has been protected as a marine reserve since 1979 and is now part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park. It is located about 7 km inside Port Phillip Heads, 3 km east of Queenscliff and 5 km north of Portsea. It is named after a naval midshipman and has no religious connotations.

Construction of Pope’s Eye began in the 1880s, under the supervision of Sir William Jervois, by dumping bluestone boulders on a submerged (12 m deep) sandbank until they formed a horse-shoe shaped artificial reef, open to the north-east, just above high-water level. Construction ceased before completion as a fort because improvements in naval gunnery enabled the entrance to Port Phillip (The Rip) and the associated shipping channel to be protected by guns at the nearby Swan Island fort, as well as at Fort Queenscliff and Fort Nepean, making Pope’s Eye redundant for military purposes. The reef now now hosts a navigation beacon.

The inside of the ‘eye’ is only about 2 m deep and is accessible to small boats as a sheltered anchorage. It is protected from strong currents and the whole structure is popular with snorkellers and scuba-divers.

Flora and fauna

The reef provides a rich habitat based on the underwater forest of marine algae, such as Giant and Leathery Kelp, that sustains a rich fauna of fish and marine invertebrates, including sponges and soft corals. Pope’s Eye is an important breeding site for Australasian Gannets, which breed on platforms constructed for them as well as on the rocks of the reef, which are also used for roosting by Black-faced Cormorants and for foraging by Ruddy Turnstones. The site is often visited by Australian Fur Seals and Bottlenose dolphins.