The Buccaneer Archipelago is a beautiful area consisting of some 800 to 1,000 rocky islands with small embayments and secluded white sandy beaches.
It is part of a ria or drowned coastline with islands of ancient massive sandstones of Pre-Cambrian age (2,500 – 1,800 million years ago). The islands are rugged and sparsely vegetated with patches of rain forest in moist areas and a fringing of mangroves where silt has accumulated.
The area has huge tidal ranges up to 12 metres. These create such phenomena as the horizontal reversible waterfall in Talbot Bay. The falls are caused by the differential created when the tide flows between narrow island gaps. The tides and whirlpools caused havoc with the pearling fleets late last century. Many sailors and divers lost their lives. On numerous islands there are isolated graves, a testimony to the dangerous conditions.
The fauna of the islands is rich and diverse. On Koolan Island 11 species of snake were identified including the most deadly, the taipan. There were several species of gecko, skink, monitor and dragon lizards. 118 species of birds were identified. Mammals included rock rats, native quolls and bats. The estuarine crocodile is common in the waters and mangrove fringes. Sea snakes, sharks, swordfish and a great variety of tropical fish are found in the pristine waters and coral lagoons.
The area is remote. Anyone sailing to and walking on the islands and swimming or fishing in the waters should take every precaution to ensure their safety. Appropriate radio and survival and first aid equipment is essential.
The area is pristine. Visitors are requested to take all their rubbish with them back to a settlement. Please do not use soap in fresh water pools or enclosed lagoons. Retrieve any items that drop over board if possible. Respect the flora, fauna and Aboriginal sites. Please take nothing but photographs and leave only very, very discrete footprints.
Aboriginal people have lived in the Archipelago for thousands of years and their rock art can be found on many islands and the adjacent mainland. They used rafts of mangrove logs and canoes to travel between the islands. Aboriginal people today still visit their traditional sites and Communities are established in the area.
Macassar people also visited the area and left evidence in campsites with taco plants and Tamarind trees growing in remote coastal locations.
William Dampier sighted the Archipelago on the 15th January 1688. It was named on 20th August 1821 by Captain Phillip Parker King “in commemoration of William Dampier’s visit to this part of the coast in 1688”.
Yampee, now Yampi, was noted by Commander John Lort Stokes on the 25th of March 1838 as an Aboriginal word for water. Yampi Sound is named from Yampee Point as named by Stokes.
Pearling conducted by luggers in the 1880s was concentrated in Cygnet Bay, Cascade Bay, Cone Bay and Strickland Bay. There are 15 isolated graves in the Strickland Bay area. Cultured pearl farms are now located in these bays.
The two most developed islands were Cockatoo and Koolan islands. These were mined for iron ore. Cockatoo contains one of the world’s richest ore bodies. It yielded an average purity of 69% over the life of the mine but quantities of ore came out at 97.34% Fe2o3. Mining commenced in the 1950s with the first ship load of ore sailing to Newcastle, NSW on 24th July 1951. Mining ceased on Cockatoo Island in 1986, but resumed in the late 1990s and ceased on Koolan Island in 1992.
Koolan Island had a peak population of 950 people and was an active community with school, police station, recreation facilities and shops. It included a golf course with the longest hole in the world No. 6 – 867-metre par 7. It doubled as the Island’s air strip. Since 1992 all buildings and exotic vegetation has been removed and extensive rehabilitation with native species has taken place.
In June 2006, exploration company Aztec Resources announced the reopening of the mine which it claims as holding some of the richest and purest iron in the world, Earlier, in April 2006, Aztec resources signed a co-existence agreement with the Dambimangari (Dambima-Ngardi) Indigenous Australian traditional owners of the island. The agreement aims to ensure that 3% of the 220 person workforce is filled by indigenous people by the eighth year of operation.