The Lacepede Islands, sometimes referred to simply as the Lacepedes, are a group of four islands lying off the north-west coast of Western Australia, about 120 km (75 mi) north of Broome. They are about 30 km (20 mi) from the Dampier Peninsula, from which they are separated by the Lacepede Channel. They are important for their breeding seabirds.
The islands are West Island, Middle Island, East Island and Sandy Island. They are all small, low spits of coarse sand and coral rubble, lying atop a platform reef. They are treeless but support some low vegetation. Average annual rainfall is about 750 mm. East Island is the site of the East Island Lighthouse.
The Lacepede Islands are an A-class Lacepede Islands Nature Reserve managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation. Black Rat were eradicated in 1986, allowing the recolonisation of the islands by small terns. They are Western Australia's most important breeding habitat for Green Turtles,
The islands have been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because they support over 1% of the world populations of Brown Boobies and Roseate Terns. The breeding colony of Brown Boobies, of up to 18,000 breeding pairs, is possibly the largest in the world. Up to 20,000 Roseate Terns have been recorded there.
Other birds breeding on the islands include Masked Boobies, Australian Pelicans, Lesser Frigatebirds, Eastern Reef Egrets, Silver Gulls, Crested, Bridled and Lesser Crested Terns, Common Noddies, and Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers. Visiting waders include Grey-tailed Tattlers, Ruddy Turnstones, Great Knots and Greater Sand Plovers.
The islands were named by Nicolas Baudin in 1801 during his expedition around Australia, in honour of French naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède who described several Australian fish species.[note 1] The name of the islands was first charted on the Freycinet Map of 1811.
In the 19th century, the Lacepede Islands were among numerous islands off the Western Australian coast that were mined for guano. Although much of the guano mined was by Western Australia industry, there was also extensive unauthorised mining by trading ships from other countries, especially the United States. A Melbourne company, Messrs. Poole, Picken and Co., had been authorised by the Western Australian government to load guano, and had been charged a royalty of 10 shillings per ton. In 1876, a dispute arose when an American named Gilbert Roberts landed from the French barque Forca de la Roquette and disputed a demand that he pay a levy for mining there. He planted the United States flag on one of the islands, claiming the island group for that country in accordance with the United States Guano Islands Act that empowered U.S. citizens to take possession of uninhabited islands more than a league (three miles) offshore from any country, so long as they had not been formally claimed. This action, known as the "American Incident" or "Lacepede Islands Incident", sparked a diplomatic and political row, which was eventually resolved by Roberts paying the levy and a fine, and the Western Australian government enacting legislation requiring all guano mining to be licensed, with severe penalties for transgressions.
The Lacepede Islands are also known to have been used by blackbirders, as a place to maroon kidnapped Abrorigines before signing them up to work in various industries, such as the pearling industry. One confirmed case is that of a settler from Cossack, Edward Chapman, who was cautioned for kidnapping Aborigines from the Beagle Bay community and marooning them in the Lacepedes.
- The Lacepede Islands. The Kimberley Coast.
- BirdLife International. (2011). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lacepede Islands. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 2011-07-18.
- "Lacepede Islands". oceandots.com. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- "IBA: Lacepede Islands". Birdata. Birds Australia. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
- Freycinet, L. (1815) Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes Exécuté sur les Corvettes le Géographe and le Naturaliste et la Goélette le Casuarina, Pendant les Années 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804; sous le Commandement du Captaine de Vaisseau N. Baudin.Published: de l'Imprimerie Royale.
- Kimberly, W.B. (compiler) (1897). History of West Australia. A Narrative of her Past. Together With Biographies of Her Leading Men. Melbourne: F.W. Niven. p.242
- McCarthy, Mike (1992). "Failure and success: The Broadhursts and the Abrolhos guano industry". In Broeze, Frank (ed). Private enterprise, government and society: Studies in Western Australian history XII. The University of Western Australia. pp. 11–23.
- Forrest, Kay (1996). The challenge and the chance: The colonisataion and settlement of north west Australia 1861 1914. Carlisle: Hesperian Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-85905-217-6.
- Some sources state that Baudin also discovered the islands, but this is highly debatable and in reality highly unlikely. Australia was visited by Dutch explorers in the 17th century (hence "New Holland") and later, in 1699, by William Dampier after whom the Dampier Archipelago is named. Dampier sailed northwards along the western coast towards Timor passing many islands on the way. Also, it should not be forgotten that fishing fleets from Indonesia, especially Makassan trepangers, have a long history of visiting the Australia coast.