by Emma George

It may be small and not that well known but this rocky outcrop is the perfect place for a snorkel and is a regular haunt for the local sea lion colony. Located on the south-eastern corner of Rottnest Island in Western Australia, Dyer Island is a family favourite for us and we are often spoilt to have this secluded spot all to ourselves.
You can anchor directly in front of the island, however there is only space for a couple of boats. If you do miss out, there are numerous sandy anchorages along the shallow reefs scattered around nearby Porpoise Bay.
If you are after an interesting snorkel and maybe a quiet picnic on the boat, then this is it. It is rare to visit Dyer Island and not find Australian sea lions sunning themselves and sleeping the day-away on the small stretch of beach.
My children learnt to snorkel here and when my youngest was just two-years-old, he complained when his older brothers were in the water looking at fish, which were attracted to our trail of breadcrumbs. “Me too, me too”, was all he could say. So on went his little goggles and life jacket and he jumped in, shouting with excitement when he put his head in the water and saw fish under the boat. Needless to say now he is five, Bailey is a confident snorkeler and this is one of our favourite summer activities.
The waters around Dyer Island are relatively shallow and clear, so the kids feel reassured because they can always see the bottom and either my husband, Ashley, or me are right by their side.
It is a good place for the beginner snorkeler as there are plenty of fish, such as whiting, wrasse, footballer sweep, herring and schools of buffalo bream and bright yellow damselfish, to see. The reef is easily accessed and although it can be weedy, there are plenty of colorful corals and sponges as well some pretty fancy nudibranchs. The advanced snorkeler will enjoy the many ledges and swimming through natural arches formed in the limestone reef. Crayfish can also be found if you are skillful enough and have a loop or a glove, you might be able to take one or two home for dinner as long as you are licensed and it is within the crayfish season.
One of our most memorable snorkels was when a sea lion decided to come and say hello and see if anyone wanted to play. Although it had such a cute puppy-dog face and just wanted to have fun, I was slightly nervous that it was still a wild animal and unpredictable. Keeping myself as a barrier between the kids and the sea lion, we watched as it twisted, somersaulted and pulled out all its tricks. I couldn’t help but twirl and watch with delight as it mimicked my every move and added some of its own.
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Dyer Island 9As we swam back to the boat, the sea lion followed us as if to beckon us to stay longer. We climbed on the boat, got dry and had our morning tea while our little furry friend floated forlornly on the surface, beckoning us to come back in the water.

Getting There
Dyer Island sits below Bickley Point and to the east of Porpoise Bay and is an easy stop over before reaching Rottnest Island. To get to Dyer Island, you will require a good marine chart and be confident using it or have a sounder with a chart plotter and be aware of where the reef systems are. To get to Rottnest Island, see the article on Thomson Bay, which outlines boat ramps and how to navigate to the island. The Department of Transports new Rottnest Boating Guide is also a good resource.
When we visit Dyer Island, we enter from the north, passing to the south of Wallace Island and then navigating to the western side of Joan Rock and through the main channel between the two sections of reef. You can easily see where the waves break over the east and western side of the main channel but you still need to be cautious in your approach. Once you pass through the channel, there is an open section of water around 2.0-3.0m deep in front of the island.
When anchoring, be careful to only anchor in the sand and check the wind direction. There is shallow reef in the area and you don’t want your anchor to drag or have the boat swing and end up on the reef.Dyer Island 3Dyer Island 8Sea Lions
There is only a small population of Australian sea lions and they are only found in Western Australia and South Australia. The total population is estimated to be just 15,000, which makes seeing them quite exciting, even if they mostly just laze around on the sand.
It is thought that Dyer Island’s sea lion population consists mainly of males, which seasonally migrate to the breeding islands of Jurien Bay. The big males, known as bulls, can grow up to 2.5 metres long and weigh up to 300kgs and eat mostly squid, octopus, cuttlefish, fish, small sharks and rock lobster.
The Rottnest Island Authority recommends that visitors do not go on to Dyer Island as it has unfriendly terrain that is rocky, unstable and it is best not to disturb the sea lions that inhibit the area. The Australian sea lions are inquisitive and playful but you need to keep in mind that they are wild animals and can grow quite big so as a general rule you should remain wary of them and give them plenty of space.

Lady Elizabeth Shipwreck 1878
The waters off Rottnest Island are literally littered with shipwrecks and while some lay undiscovered in the depths of the ocean, there are a few that can be easily seen from the surface. One of them is The Lady Elizabeth, which lies very close to Dyer Island, in about 2.0-4.0m of water.Dyer Island 6
It is located on the north-western side of Dyer Island and sits just to the west of a shallow piece of reef. We found it lying in the exact spot our sounder said it would be. Even though the Lady Elizabeth has been in the water for over 137 years, once you find it, the wreck is quite distinctive. You can easily see the shape of the hull when snorkelling above it. It was a real highlight for my kids to snorkel over such an old shipwreck in relatively shallow, calm water.
The ship ran into trouble during a storm in 1878 as it tried to make its way back to Fremantle Port from Rottnest Island. A sailor was lost overboard but they could not rescue him because of the appalling weather. The Lady Elizabeth then struck Bickley Point and started to list, with the ship going down and the crew being rescued the next morning when the weather abated. Apparently locals from Rottnest to Bunbury made good money from the sandalwood that washed ashore from the ship over the following months.

Fishing
Dyer Island is not in any of the marine sanctuaries around Rotto so you can fish here, however, if you are keen on catching something for dinner, there are better places to try.
Although we often see good-sized King George whiting snorkelling, we are yet to catch one here. The kids like to have a fish so we create a burley stream of breadcrumbs and tuna oil to bring the fish in. The boys keep busy with a steady catch of all the Rotto regulars such herring, skippy, rock cod and numerous varieties of wrasse. If you are fishing, make sure you throw a squid jig out the back because you could be lucky and catch a squid or two.
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Dyer Island 4Best time to visit
Although in the winter months the water can be cool for snorkelling, it is still a nice place to anchor for a quiet lunch and relax but if you don’t mind temperatures of around 18C, the visibility is normally very good.
The best time to visit is when there is little swell and no wind, which makes for perfect snorkelling and a nice calm anchorage. Light winds are OK and you can get a bit of protection from Dyer Island on a southerly wind and Rottnest Island works as a buffer when there is a northerly or westerly wind. If you are unsure what condition will be like, it is not a very big detour to check if the water is calm or choppy as you can easily see from Bickley Point.
The perfect day for us is to spend the morning at Dyer Island before the south westerly kicks in and makes it unpleasant on that side of Rotto. We then sea breeze is in we motor around to the settlement for lunch and a relax before returning home to Perth in the afternoon.