Bernier and Dorre Islands

Across the head of Shark Bay and to the west of Carnarvon, though not on the regular tourist runs, are Dorre and Bernier Islands. Both are uninhabited apart from the very rare banded-hare wallaby, Lesueur's rat kangaroo, little barred-bandicoot and Shark Bay mouse all of which are extinct or nearly extinct on the mainland. Rising sea levels some 8,000 years ago left the islands isolated and inaccessible from the mainland.

Home to some of the rarest wildlife in the world these two islands west of Carnarvon are of immeasurable conservation importance. Classified as A Class nature reserves, the islands are home to four species of mammal found nowhere else on the planet.

To protect the native wildlife there is no overnight access to the islands. Day visits are permitted on Bernier Island only and access is totally prohibited on Dorre Island.

Access

The islands are located approximately 50km from the Western Australian coast and can only be reached by boat. Access is prohibited to Dorre Island and day visits only are permitted on Bernier Island. No camping is allowed on either island.

If approaching Bernier Island by boat, Red Cliff Point is a recommended all year round destination, however the best time is during the lighter winds that tend to blow April to October. Tropical cyclones have been known to track this far south during the tropical cyclone season, which runs from November to March.

The anchorage is northwest of the prominent bluff at Red Cliff Point, beneath towering white dunes that tumble into the sea at a sharp angle.Anchor over a sandy bottom, with protection from S-W in approx 3mts. There are no facilities on the island.

Facilities & Fees

There are no facilities on the islands and no fees are charged for day visitors.

Natural highlights

Undoubtedly the most important of the island's assets are their rare mammal species. Four species; the Shark Bay mouse, banded hare-wallaby (pictured at right), western barred bandicoot and rufous hare-wallaby (mala) are found naturally, nowhere else in the world. Two hundred years ago these mammals were found across much of the Australian mainland but the introduction of foxes and cats led to their eventual demise. Cat and fox free Bernier and Dorre Islands have remained as the last bastion of these species and are now critical nature reserves vital to the survival of these small mammals.

To read more about each of these species read the fact sheets

Cultural History

Bernier and Dorre Islands are part of a tragic chapter in human history. Between 1908 and 1918 these small, isolated islands were used by the Western Australian government for experiments as 'lock hospitals' for Aboriginal people with venereal disease and leprosy. Men, women and children were brought by force from all over the north-west area. The patients and their families often had little idea of where they were, or why they were taken from their traditional country. Experiments were done in the new sciences of bacteriology and tropical medicine. Of the 650 inmates taken to the islands, only 490 returned to the mainland.

More

Cape Ronsard Light

The original Cape Ronsard Light was a steel cylindrical tower above. Built in 1961, it supported a white flashing light powered by acetylene gas. It was removed and replaced with a GRP cabinet when the light was converted to solar power in 1985. Cape Ronsard is the northern tip of Bernier Island.


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Threats and Protection

The island's fragile habitats and their rare mammal species are especially vulnerable to many of the same processes that threaten mainland ecosystems. Surrounded by water and with no where to go, a wildfire or escaped predator like a cat or dog loose on an island, could be devastating. Careless human activity could also increase the risk of introducing and spreading weeds, insects, feral competitors like mice and rats, and disease, starting a slower, but no less destructive decline towards possible extinction.

These risks can be reduced by thoughtful and responsible behaviour by visitors:
Please do not land on Dorre Island
Ensure any boots, clothing and equipment taken onto Bernier Island are clean and free of stowaway bacteria, seeds, insects or mice
Do not camp or light fires
Take no pets or firearms onto the island
Do not leave any food, rubbish or bodily waste on the island

Unfortunately, climate change is likely to mean even hotter and drier conditions for these islands in the future, increasing the risks of wildfire and putting greater pressures on survival of their unique wildlife.


Naming the Islands

The islands were both visited by Nicolas Baudin, who led a French expedition to explore the coasts of Australia, possibly with a view to establishing a French settlement somewhere along its shores before the British could. Bernier Island was named on 12th July 1801 after Jean-Auguste-Dominique-Ingres Pierre Francois Bernier Bernier, an astronomer and one of many French scientists who accompanied Baudin on his expedition.

Pierre Francois Bernier

After landing at what is now known as Cape Inscription on Dirk Hartog Island on 25 October 1616 and leaving a pewter plate nailed to a pole recording his visit, Captain Dirk Hartog of the Dutch East India Company's ship, Eendracht, said on to his destination, the East Indies (Indonesia). He did not land on the two long islands to the north of Shark Bay, but recorded their existence.

Fellow Dutchman Willem de Valmingh visited the locality on 4 February 1697 and replaced Hartog's plate with one of his own inscibed with details of both visits. De Vlamingh was using Joannes Van Keulen's 1619 Shark Bay chart created from Dirk Hartog's chart of his 1616 encounter, which marked both Dorre and Bernier Islands as "Dorre Islands". Dorre is a dutch word meaning dry and barren, hence Hartog was in reality describing them rather than naming them when he marked them on his charts.

Boullanger and Ronsard are two French names which appear more than once around the Australian coastline. The names recall two members of Nicolas Baudin's French expedition of 1801 - Charles Pierre Boullanger, midshipman, geographer and engineer of survey vessel Geographe, and Francois Melchesadek Ronsard, naval engineer of survey vessel Naturaliste. Baudin named two capes on Dorre Island after them in July 1801.

Two other expedition members had capes named after them, both on Bernier Island - Joseph Victor Couture, midshipman of survey vessel Naturaliste, and seaman Jacques St. Cricq, also of survey vessel Naturaliste.

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