Bernier and Dorre Islands

Aerial view of Dorre Island from the south

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.

The islands are located approximately 50km from the Western Australian coast and can only be reached by boat. To protect the native wildlife access is prohibited to Dorre Island. Day visits are permitted on Bernier Island, but camping is not allowed on either island.

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), 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 visit our fact sheet pages.

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.

To read the full story of the lock hospitals visit our history pages.

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
  • Do not take 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.

Link to Bernier and Dorre Island brochure

Learn all about the rare mammals on Bernier and Dorre Islands and the threats to their survival. Download a copy of this informative brochure here!