Long Reef was formed over 240 million years ago in the Triassic Period and is rare in the Sydney region for its chocolate shales, claystones and ironstones. These rocks are some of the oldest exposed rocks on this coastline and give the area and the water around Long Reef the reddish appearance.
Part of a fossilized jawbone and a thigh bone of a giant amphibious carnivore that roamed the area in the Triassic were discovered on Long Reef. The whole jawbone is estimated as 1 m long. It was scientifically named Bulgosuchus gargantua and is only known from Long Reef.
The traditional custodians of this area are the Garigal people and the Gannagal (also known as Cannagal) people of the Eora nation. Shell mounds (middens) are found on the north-eastern side of Long Reef. These include weathered and burnt shells built up over hundreds of years from Aboriginal people harvesting food.
Fishermans Beach may have been used by European settlers as early as the 1870s to launch fishing boats. Fishers’ huts recorded here may also date from this period.
The hut still present at this site is thought to have been built in the 1930s.
There are records of 25 shipwrecks and scuttlings associated with Long Reef on the Australian National Shipwreck Database. Despite the prominent headland, no lighthouse was built.
Between 1815 and 1915 many shipwrecks occurred, for example:
In 1942 the Australian Defence Forces commandeered the southern portion of the golf course at Long Reef for coastal surveillance, training and manoeuvres.
By the mid-1970s Long Reef’s flora and fauna had become seriously depleted due to intensive collection for food and bait. It was in serious need of protection.
In 1980 the first aquatic reserve in NSW was declared at Long Reef to protect the intertidal plants and animals, and to ensure that scientific research and education could continue at this site.
Since then many thousands of school children have visited Long Reef Aquatic Reserve to learn about the marine life.