Recherche Archipelago

Archipelago of the Recherche

Archipelago of the Recherche is a group of 105 islands, and over 1200 "obstacles to shipping", off the southern coast of Western Australia. The islands, also known as the Recherche Archipelago, stretch from East to West and to off-shore. The western group is near Esperance and the eastern group at Israelite Bay. They are located in coastal and inland waters, part of which is referred to as the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve.


European discovery and naming

The islands became known to Europeans when Francois Thijssen and Pieter Nuyts, sailing on 'Gulden Zeepaert, sighted and explored the area in 1627. George Vancouver also passed through the archipelago as part of his expedition in HMS Discovery in 1791. . 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 became the second largest wreck that can be dived on in the world. The response to the pollution by wreck was reported upon soon after the wreck

Australia's only recorded pirate, Black Jack Anderson, frequented the archipelago in the 1830s. A former sealer 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, and shipping from the Port of Esperance. Commercial fishing is primarily abalone, Esperance Rock Lobster, pilchard, and sharks, and fishing tourism is an established industry. The area is proposed for other applications of aquaculture, including farming trials of Bluefin Tuna.


An island group at inland and coastal waters near the southwest coast of Australia. The western group is near Esperance, Western Australia and an eastern group at Israelite Bay. These form an Archipelago of 105 features classed as islands, and more than 1500 islets. The islands of the archipelago have a combined area of . The islands are generally composed of granite outcrops; these have steep slopes and often lack beaches. A large number of features are submerged, some becoming exposed by tides.


The islands are usually considered as being either in the western group (near Esperance and Woody Island and Cape Le Grand National Park) or in the eastern group (Middle Island being the most prominent) - near Cape Arid National Park Some surveys of the archipelago go further than the eastern and western distinction and consider groupings around named islands

Part of the area is included in the bioregion described as Esperance 2 (ESP2), the 'Recherche subregion', which contains Cape Le Grand National Park at its western end, and the Cape Arid National Park at the eastern end. This area is named the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve.

Notable islands

  • Ben Island has had scientific research conducted
  • Middle Island has had historical activity. It is the largest island in the archipelago at and was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Flinders climbed the peak (called Flinders Peak) on Middle Island to survey the surrounding islands. The island also contains a pink lake, Lake Hillier, that John Thistle collected some salt samples from.
  • Woody Island (Western Australia) is the only island with public access and usage within the reserve.
  • Anvil Island a haul-out site for the Australian Sea Lion
  • Barrier Island a haul-out site for the Australian Sea Lion.
  • Forrest Island
  • Taylor Island a breeding site for the Australian Sea Lion.
  • Cooper Island a breeding site for the Australian Sea Lion and the New Zealand Fur Seal .
  • Mondrain Island This island supports a population of Recherche Rock-wallabys. The highest point of this island is Baudin Peak with a height of
  • 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 there 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 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 This island supports a population of Recherche Rock-wallabys.
  • Wilson Island This island supports a population of the 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).

Seagrasses found at the island include: Amphibolis antarctica, Amphibolis griffithii, Halophila decipiens, Halophila ovalis, Posidonia angustifolia, Posidonia australis, Posidonia coriacea, Posidonia denhartogii, Posidonia kirkmani, Posidonia ostenfeldii, Posidonia sinuosa, Syringodium isoetifolium, and Thalassodendron pachyrhizum.


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 Petrogale lateralis hacketti). 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), and this rare subspecies 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.


Further reading

  • Australian Geographical Society (1952-1954). Expedition to the Archipelago of the Recherche, Western Australia. Australian Geographical Society reports. no.1 (7 reports in 4 volumes)
    • pt. 1a. General history by J.M. Bechervaise -- pt. 1b. Physiography by R.W. Fairbridge and V.N. Serventy -- pt. 2. Birds by V.N. Serventy -- pt. 3. Plants, 3a. Land flora by J.H. Willis, 3b. Marine algae by H.B.S. Womersley -- pt. 4. Mammals by V. N. Serventy -- pt. 5. Reptiles and frogs by L. Glauert -- pt. 6. Spiders and opiliones by Barbara York Main -- pt. 7. Molluscs (sea shells and snails) by J. Hope Macpherson.
  • Kendrick, G. (et al.) (2005) Characterising the fish habitats of the Recherche Archipelago Crawley, W.A. University of Western Australia. Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. ISBN 1740521226 "Fisheries Research and Development Corporation report, project no. 2001/060."
  • Thomson-Dans, Carolyn, Kendrick, Gary and Bancroft, Kevin (2003) Researching the Recherche.Landscope (Como, W.A), Winter 2003, p. 6-8,

Early cartography

  • Beautemps-Beaupré, C. F. (1807) Carte de l'archipel de la Recherche, situé à la partie occidentale de la terre de Nuyts, reconnu par le contre amiral Bruny-Dentrecasteaux, en décembre 1792 (an 1er de l'ere Française) Paris : Dépôt général des cartes et plans de la marine et des colonies], Battye Library Map Stack B/23/17 Scale [ca. 1:436,000] (Map of Recherche Archipelago showing track of Recherche and Espérance in December 1792). (Battye copy reduced to approximately 1:812 000 and 25 x 38.4 cm)

External links

Search another word or see Recherche Archipelagoon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature