Dampier Expedition

The Dampier Archipelago lies off the Pilbara coast in north-western Australia, approximately 1550 km north of Perth (Figure 1). Consisting of 42 islands, islets and rock outcrops, the dominant features of the archipelago include the Burrup Peninsula and several large islands e.g. Delambre, Dolphin, Enderby, Legendre, West Intercourse, and West Lewis. The islands are all located within a 45 km radius of the town of Dampier.

Aboriginal people have occupied parts of the Dampier Archipelago and nearby areas for thousands of years, and continue to hunt and fish in the area today. A chart drawn in 1628 for the Dutch East India Company shows the archipelago, but it was not until 1688 that William Dampier made the first recorded European visit to this area.

The most notable settlements in the area are Dampier, located in Hampden Harbour on the south-western shore of the Burrup Peninsula, and Karratha, situated on the southern shore of Nickol Bay. The major industries in the region include the mining and export of iron ore, salt and liquefied natural gas. The natural gas industry in this area is the largest in Australia. As a result of the resource based industries, the Dampier port, built in 1966, is one of Australia’s busiest, exporting approximately 75 million tonnes of product per annum, with a value of A$5-6 billion (2002 figures). This equates to approximately 20% of Western Australia’s export revenue. Commercial interests in the area also extend to fisheries including various fin-fish species and Banana prawns (Penaeus merguiensis), as well as the culture of pearls in the silver-lipped pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima). The region also possesses excellent natural resources for recreational activities such as diving, snorkeling and fishing.

The first detailed survey of the marine biodiversity of the Dampier Archipelago resulted from a partnership between the Western Australian Museum and Woodside Energy Ltd. Between 1998 and 2000, several expeditions by staff from the Western Australian Museum and other institutions, located within Australia and overseas, was made to survey the marine biodiversity of the Dampier Archipelago. To date, over 85 scientists from 25 countries have been involved in this research. The surveys involved the collection of data and specimens across a range of habitat types. These included;

  • rocky shores and limestone platforms (both subtidal and intertidal)
  • intertidal sandflats and mudflats with mangroves
  • seagrass beds and marine algae environments
  • coral reefs and granite outcrops
  • subtidal areas of soft substrate

Techniques employed during the surveys of the Dampier Archipelago included SCUBA diving, shore collecting, dredging, underwater photography of living specimens and video recording of the ocean floor.

The project had several key goals;

  • To survey the biodiversity in the waters of the Dampier Archipelago and to generate a list of species recorded
  • To collect fauna from the Dampier Archipelago, to be held in the Woodside Collection at the Western Australian Museum
  • To liaise with stakeholders in the Dampier Archipelago regarding conservation of the marine biodiversity in the area
  • To provide information that would assist in the conservation of the marine biodiversity in the Dampier Archipelago and its waters
  • To present the information gained from the research to the public, both in Western Australia and worldwide

This project has lead to an enormous increase in both the number of museum specimens and in the knowledge of the marine species that occur in the Dampier Archipelago (Figure 2). The surveys resulted in the recording of more than 4 500 species, including 268 new to science. The marine life of the region is now recognised as one of the most diverse in Australia.