The "Twelve Apostles" of Australia's southern shore push upwards from the surf as though reaching for the heavens. But these dramatic features of the Victoria Coast, some 140 miles southwest of Melbourne, are of course non-living figures, sculpted - and destroyed - by the processes of the sea.
The rock stacks are collectively called the "Twelve Apostles," although there were only nine of them when they got this name. They are made of limestone that is millions of years old, and which was itself formed from petrified dead layers of microscopic marine creatures. In previous geologic eras, these golden towers were part of the terrestrial bluffs behind them. But as the Southern Ocean's Antarctic waves pounded the cliffs over millennia, all but the sturdiest bodies of rock eroded away. The result was these freestanding spires, some of which stand more than 100 feet tall. Other impressive rock structures lie beneath the ocean's surface here. An architectural network of underwater canyons and arches contrasts with the solitary uprightness of the Apostles-and houses abundant fish, crustaceans, and seals.
The remarkable underwater structures provide a complex foundation for magnificent habitats including kelp forests and colourful sponge gardens. Many animals prosper here 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.
Though they have endured for millions of years in a marine environment so inhospitable that it is referred to as “Shipwreck Coast," the Apostles are far from invincible. Their number went from nine to eight in 2005, when a fateful wave sent one crumbling into the sea. But these acts of demolition belong to the same process by which future Apostles will be created, as the constant tidal pull causes new pillars to emerge from the shoreline bluffs.