Recherche Archipelago

Archipelago of the Recherche (also known as Recherche Archipelago or The Bay of Isles) is a group of 105 islands, and over 1200 rocky outcrops off the southern coast of Western Australia.

The islands stretch 230 kilometres (143 mi) from East to West and to 50 kilometres (31 mi) off-shore. They are usually considered as being either in the western group (near Esperance, Woody Island and Cape Le Grand National Park) or in the eastern group (Middle Island being the most prominent) – near Cape Arid National Park and Israelite Bay. They are located in coastal and inland waters, part of which is referred to as the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve.


The area was named the Archipelago of the Recherche (L’Archipel de la Recherche) by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux during a French expedition in 1792. This name was taken from one of the Rear Admiral’s ships, Le Recherche, the town of Esperance is named from the other ship of the expedition. They also came to be known as the D’Entrecasteaux Islands. Matthew Flinders was the first to explore and chart the islands of the archipelago in 1802 as part of his voyage in the Investigator.

Maritime history

On the 14th February 1991 the Sanko Harvest a bulk carrier of 33,024 tons sank in the archipelago – and it has now became the second largest wreck that can be dived on in the world.

Australia’s only recorded pirate, Black Jack Anderson, frequented the archipelago in the 1830s. A former whaler he turned to piracy and wreaked havoc in the area until being murdered by his crew.

Flinders lost two important anchors when leaving the area in 1802, in 1972 these were recovered and moved to the South Australian Maritime Museum.

Uses of the area now include recreational and commercial fishing, tourism and shipping from the Port of Esperance. Commercial fishing is primarily abalone, Esperance Rock Lobster, pilchard, and sharks.

Notable islands

  • Woody Island is the third largest in the Recherche Archipelago and the only island with public access and usage within the reserve. Breeding ground for the Fleshy-footed shearwaters(Puffinus carneipes) and for the Little Penguins(Eudyptula minor). Abundant bird life is found due to the tall Eucalyptus trees that dominate the island and for which the island is named after.
  • Cull Island- a breeding site for the Recherche Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae grisea), a rare subspecies. Also has wild goats which roam the island.
  • Ben Island has had scientific research conducted
  • Middle Island has had historical activity. It is the largest island in the Recherche Archipelago at 10.8 square kilometres (2,669 acres) and was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Flinders climbed the 185 metres (607 ft) peak (called Flinders Peak) to survey the surrounding islands. It also contains a pink lake, Lake Hillier, that John Thistle collected salt samples. The Pirate, Black Jack Anderson, based himself here to launch raids on vessels making their way between Adelaide and Albany.
  • Sandy Hook- has a beautiful white sandy beach but is also home to Death Adder snakes.
  • Cooper Island a breeding site for the Australian Sea Lion and the New Zealand Fur Seal .
  • Mondrain Island This 8.1 square kilometres (2,002 acres) island supports a population of Recherche Rock-wallabys. The highest point of this island is Baudin Peak with a height of 222 metres (728 ft)
  • Observatory Island Captain Bruni d’Entrecasteaux and Captain Huon de Kermandec sheltered on the lee side of this island in 1792 during a wild storm. While their ships, Le Recherche and L’Esperance , were at anchor Captain d’Entrecasteaux decided to name the bay after the first ship to enter it – L’Esperance.
  • Salisbury Island This 3.2 square kilometres (791 acres) island is a breeding ground for the Australian Fur Seal and the New Zealand Fur Seal. This island also supports a population of Black-flanked Rock-wallabys.
  • Westall Island 70 hectares (173 acres) and Wilson Island 90 hectares (222 acres) island supports a population of Recherche Rock-wallabys.

Flora and fauna

Larger islands have a substrate that supports vegetation, nesting birds, and other animals. A complex marine environment is found in the surrounding waters, the benthic habitat is various densities of seagrass meadows, reefs, or bare sand.


The waters around the islands meet often steep faces of granite, the extensive reefs and other features form habitat which supports a rich diversity of marine life. This includes over 450 types of sponge, sea grasses, and soft corals. A coral-like algae species, rhodoliths, form beds which support marine species of spiders, snails, and worms, also acting as a creche for scallops. Marine mammals associated with the islands include two species of seal, large groups of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), and Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).


The islands support populations of terrestrial flora and fauna, some of which are unique to the archipelago. New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) and Australian Sea-lion (Neophoca cinerea) breeding colonies are found on some islands. Marsupials include Tammars (Macropus eugenii derbianus), a species of Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus), two subspecies of Rock Wallabies (Petrogale lateralis lateralis and Recherche Archipelago). Snakes include the Recherche Island Dugite (Pseudonaja affinis tanneri) on Cull Island, and the python Morelia spilota imbricata. Other reptiles include the Barking gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii), Ornate Dragon (Ctenophorus ornatus), and the Southern Heath Monitor (Varanus rosenbergi). A type of goose are resident on the islands, the Recherche Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae grisea), a rare subspecies which breeds on islands with herbaceous vegetation: Cull Island, Daw, Round, and Wickham Island are noted examples of this preferred habitat. Two species of frog are also found on the islands; the Quacking Frog Crinia georgiana and Spotted-thighed Frog Litoria cyclorhyncha.

Many of the animals and plants are in refugia, where they are remote from factors that threaten mainland populations.

Reference: Wikipedia