The remarkable underwater structures provide a complex foundation for magnificent habitats including kelp forests and colourful sponge gardens.
Many animals prosper both above and below the water including seabirds, seals, lobsters, reef fish and sea spiders. The intertidal and shallow subtidal reefs are known to have the greatest diversity of invertebrates on limestone reef in Victoria.
Marine mammals, such as whales, are also known to visit the area. Patient visitors after dark or in the early morning may see Little Penguins which nest in caves below the Twelve Apostles.
The powerful swell of the Southern Ocean has created awesome sub-tidal canyons, arches, cliffs and walls lined with an amazing diversity of invertebrates and sponge gardens in which colourful seastars can be found.
There are also a number of historic shipwrecks including Victoria's worst shipping disaster - the loss of the Loch Ard in 1878.
Conditions for scuba diving vary enormously and depend very much on swell and weather conditions. Diving in these areas should only be attempted by qualified divers with extensive local knowledge or with a an experience guide.
Local dive shops and dive operators can provide opportunities to dive at the best sites and wrecks.
The Twelve Apostles were originally called The Sow and Piglets. The Sow was Mutton Bird Island, which stands at the entrance to Loch Ard Gorge, and her Piglets were the numerous rock stacks located along the coast, including the Twelve Apostles. There are many more spectacular limestone rock stacks along the Shipwreck Coast, including in Bay of Islands Coastal Park.
Bass Strait was a major shipping route supplying the growing colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. Five ships, comprising both immigrant ships and traders, are located in or near this park. The Loch Ard was wrecked in 1878. Fifty-two lives were lost. The two survivors were cared for at the Glenample Homestead. Four casualties from the wreck are buried in the Loch Ard cemetery. Other shipwrecks in the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park include the Marie Gabrielle, mentioned above and the Fiji, an Irish barque that ran aground in 1891 after losing its way near Cape Otway in heavy seas. Twelve lives were lost in this wreck. Both of these ships are found on a stretch of coast known as Wreck Beach at Moonlight Head.
The wild and powerful Southern Ocean that sculpts the area's limestone landscape also shrouds a remarkable seascape beneath the waves; a submarine labyrinth of towering canyons, caves, arches and walls. These natural features are festooned with colourful seaweed and sponge 'gardens', resident schools of reef fish, such as sweep, gliding above and the occasional visit by an Australian Fur Seal.
The marine environment of the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park is characteristic of the surrounding area from Childers Cove (east of Warrnambool) to Gibson's Steps, which has the highest diversity of intertidal and subtidal invertebrates on limestone in Victoria, as well as supporting a diverse range of fish.
From the cliffs you can see the thick brown fronds of Bull Kelp (Durvillea potatorum) attached to the rocks near the low tide mark, swirling in the ocean swell. Southern Giant Kelp forms forests at some locations that reach the surface from 10 metres in depth. Lobster, abalone and sea urchins are common underneath the thick kelp canopy.
Offshore reefs (30-60 metres deep) are known to support sponge 'gardens' with colourful and varied sponges, sea squirts and bryozoans that shelter many invertebrate animals including sea-spiders, beautiful sea slugs (or nudibranchs) and a diverse range of seasnails and seastars.
Little Penguins feed in the park and nest in caves below the Twelve Apostles. Patient observation just after dark or in the early morning will allow visitors to view these birds from the platforms at the 12 Apostles.