Protect Our Local Wildlife
Rottnest Island is an A-Class Reserve renowned for its high conservation and community values.
All plants and animals on Rottnest Island are protected by law. Wildlife should not be disturbed, rather observed from a reasonable distance.
Please enjoy these natural wonders during your visit and appreciate the need to conserve this island paradise for future generations to enjoy.
View our Protect Our Wildlife brochure.
The happiest animal on Earth...
The quokka is possibly the most well-known animal on Rottnest Island. It was first observed by a European in 1658 when the Dutchman, Volkersen, wrote that it resembled an Asian civet cat, but with brown hair. In 1696 de Vlamingh described the quokka as "a kind of rat as big as a common cat". He named the Island 'Rotte nest' (meaning 'rat's nest') and the name of the Island was eventually adapted to 'Rottnest'.
The name "quokka" comes from the name given to the animal by the Aboriginal people living in the Augusta and King George Sound area of the south-west of Western Australia. A marsupial the size of a hare or domestic cat, the quokka is the sole representative of the genus Setonix. As with other marsupials, such as the kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, bettong and potoroo, the females suckle their young in a pouch. They give birth in late summer, after a gestation period of twenty-seven days, and the young quokka remains in the pouch until August or September, and is then suckled for a further two months. The quokka reaches maturity at about one-and-a-half to two years of age, and lives to be ten years old.
Quokkas are generally nocturnal and spend most of the day sleeping and resting under shady bushes and dense vegetation. On the island they can be seen opportunistically feeding during the day. The quokka’s diet consists of grass, leaves, seeds and roots. They swallow their food without chewing and later regurgitate the cud which they chew on. This is a very effective way to ensure that all the moisture and nutrients is obtained from the dry nutrient deficient vegetation available on the island. Quokkas need very little water and can go months without drinking from a direct water source. Eating ‘human food’ can be very detrimental to the quokkas health causing them to be dehydrated and malnourished.
When Europeans first settled in Western Australia the quokka was widespread in many parts of the south-west as well as on Rottnest, Bald Island and in the vicinity of Perth, probably as far north as Moore River. With the introduction of predators such as foxes and loss of habitat, their population on the mainland dramatically diminished. Due to the lack of predators and the availability of food on Rottnest Island, population numbers have soared to approximately 12,000. This has put substantial pressure on the existing vegetation, particularly Rottnest Island tea tree and Rottnest Island pine seedlings which are favoured meals for the quokka. Despite these large numbers, populations are extremely responsive to disturbance and numbers can decrease significantly in harsh seasons.
It is important for visitors to refrain from feeding quokkas and other fauna on Rottnest Island. Quokkas may become very ill as a result of eating unsuitable food such as bread, chips and meat. It is also equally important not to provide quokkas with an artificial water supply as it has the potential to alter natural behavior and can also cause toxicity within the quokkas body leading to death. Rottnest Island Rangers may issue infringements to people who feed quokkas.
Marine life of Rottnest Island
The Rottnest Island Marine Reserve has a far greater range of habitats, marine plants and animals than that of the adjacent mainland coastline. Extensive seagrass meadows occur around Rottnest Island, and with nine species, it is second only to Shark Bay in species diversity.
Approximately 400 species of fish and twenty species of coral occur within the Marine Reserve. Fish include the Western Australian dhufish, baldchin groper, harlequin fish, cobbler, flathead, leatherjacket, samson fish, tailor, butterfly fish, moon wrasse, blue devil and migratory fish such as marlin and tuna. The Island is also a popular area for migrating humpback whales, bottle-nose dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals and Australian sea lions.
New Zealand Fur Seals
Get up and close to the resident New Zealand Fur Seals colony whilst they flip and play together in the bay and enjoy basking on the rocks. Spot the colony from the New Catherdral Rocks viewing platform. The Cathedral Rocks waters are closed to diving and boating. You can ride to Cathedral Rocks by bike or jump on the Island Explorer bus.
Spot a pod of Bottlenose dolphins feeding & surfing in Salmon Bay (north).
Rottnest Island has a tropical influence with records of 135 species of tropical fish as compared to eleven species recorded off the metropolitan coastline. A major factor influencing this diversity is the position of the Island in the path of the warm Leeuwin Current. This Current often brings tropical visitors to our waters such as the Green Turtle.
Spearguns, gidgies, spear fishing and net fishing are prohibited within the Rottnest Island Marine Reserve. All reef animals except abalone, squid, cuttlefish and octopus are protected in waters around the Island.
The crustaceans around Rottnest Island include several species of crab, such as the blue manna, a favourite summer food for Western Australians. However, the best know crustacean of Rottnest Island is the Western rock lobster which occurs only in continental shelf waters of the Australian west coast between the North West Cape and Cape Leeuwin. It forms the basis of a lucrative export industry particularly to the United States and Japan. A wide variety of shrimps, prawns, barnacles and hermit crabs also inhabit the waters around the Island.
There is an enormous variety of shells on and around Rottnest Island. They are protected and should not be collected. They vary from bivalve mussels to the large baler shell. Various species of cowry, cone shells, clams, abalone and turban shells abound.
Whale watching in winter is a fascinating experience on Rottnest Island. The humpback whale which passes through the Indian Ocean off Rottnest is a baleen whale, which sieves planktonic organisms from the water, as distinct from the toothed whales which feed on squid, fish and marine mammals. The scientific name for the humpback whale is Megaptera novaeangliae, which comes from the Greek meaning "great wing" because of its huge, wing-like flippers. Land based whale watching is possible from Cape Vlamingh (The West End) during the migratory season.
Mature humpback whales weigh roughly forty tonnes and grow to nineteen metres in length. They have been protected from whaling in the Southern Hemisphere since 1963.
The population of humpback whales in Western Australian waters is believed to be about 2,000 to 3,000 animals and in Eastern Australia about 1,200 animals. They spend summer in the Antarctic and migrate north each winter towards their tropical calving grounds.
Female humpbacks are pregnant for about eleven to twelve months and the calves at birth are more than four metres long, weighing more than one tonne. The mother's milk is the consistency of chewing gum and has a thirty-five percent fat content (as compared with a human milk content of about two per cent fat). A female humpback can produce up to 600 litres of milk per day and a suckling calf can gain over 45kg a day during the first few weeks of life. Nursing ends at eleven months when the calf is approximately eight metres long.
Birds of Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island is a haven for birds...
Rottnest Island's wetlands and coastal areas provide significant food resources and breeding habitat for a multitude of shorebird species. Up to 50 shorebird species are recorded by BirdLife Australia at Rottnest on a bi-annual basis, with itinerant species regularly observed. Shorebirds around Rottnest Island include the pied cormorant, osprey, pied oystercatcher, silver gulls, crested tern, fairy tern, caspian tern, rock parrot and eastern reef egret.
Rottnest Island supports several of the southern-most breeding colonies of wedge-tailed shearwaters. Wedge-tailed shearwaters can live for up to 30 years, are monogamous (pair for life), and breed in burrows they have excavated. The breeding pairs will usually return to the same breeding burrow year after year where they lay a single egg. The wedge-tailed shearwater lands on the Island to breed in colonies of burrows at Cape Vlamingh and Radar Reef.
The eastern osprey is a medium-size raptor that inhabits most coastal areas and off-shore islands in Australia. The osprey remains with the same mate for life and their nests, known as stacks, are some of the largest and most durable natural structures in Australia. Some stacks on the island are known to be in excess of 70 years old. The birds are faithful to their nesting sites, using the same nest for many years and adding a little more each time they return, one such stack can be seen at Salmon Point.
About ten percent of the eastern end of Rottnest Island is made up of salt lakes, containing brine shrimp. Brine shrimp support a large number of birds such as the red-necked avocet, banded stilts, ruddy turnstone, curlew sandpiper, red-capped dotterel, Australian shelduck, red-necked stint, grey plover, white-fronted chat, caspian terns and crested terns. Some of these species such as the red-necked stint (which weighs only 30 grams), ruddy turnstone and curlew sandpiper are trans-equatorial migrants that travel all the way from north-eastern Siberia and Alaska in the Arctic Circle to feed on the brine shrimp during summer.
The brackish swamps are home to the black duck and grey teal duck.
A combination of habitat clearing on the Swan Coastal Plain and the introduction of feral predators such as foxes and cats have caused significant declines in mainland bushbird populations since European colonisation. Rottnest Island’s woodland, inland heath and Acacia rostellifera communities provide key habitat for the 43 species of bushbird regularly surveyed on Rottnest, including the tree martin, welcome swallow, silvereye, spotted turtledove, laughing turtledove, rainbow bee-eater, fan-tailed cuckoo, red-capped robin, golden whistler, western warbler, and singing honey -eater.
Woodland habitat is especially important for the Golden Whistler and Red-capped Robin. The population of both these species has declined on the Swan Coastal Plain, however surveys on the Island have indicated an increase in population size and colonisation of suitable reforested sites since 2009. The red-capped robin is often spotted in the woodland areas of Watson’s Glade at Parker Point and owes its name to the bright red plumage that the male bares on the crown of his head.
The turquoise-coloured sacred kingfisher makes its nest by excavating a burrow in tree branches and can be spotted around the Thomson Bay, Bickley and Kingstown areas. The rainbow bee-eater is a strikingly colourful bird that, as it name suggests, feeds primarily on bees and wasps by catching the flying insects on the wing and rubbing them against a perch to remove the strings and venom before swallowing.
The Rock Parrot forages on the ground for seeds and vegetation, and nests in limestone rock crevices. It was regarded as common on Rottnest from 1905 to 1929 but was uncommon by 1965 due to capture of juvenile birds for sale on the mainland. This population has continued to decline (even with the removal of cats from the Island in 2002) which may indicate that it is potentially no longer viable on the Island (BirdLife Australia, 2011). Research into Rock Parrot population size is currently being undertaken by DPaW and RIA, with several individuals already tagged by DPaW.
Birds commonly found around the settlement area include the silver gull, Australian raven, and the banded plover (or lapwing). The Indian peafowl, an introduced species released onto the Island in about 1915, can also be seen, with up to 5 males being kept on the island and any one time. Australian pelicans are regularly seen around the jetty at Thomson Bay.
Golden Whistler or Western Whistler?
A recent study has resulted in the split of Western Whistler from Golden Whistler! The split was revealed in a series of genetic studies of the ‘Golden Whistler’ complex and means that the species on Rottnest that we have previously referred to as Golden Whistler, is now called Western Whistler (Pachycephala occidentalis).
The woodland habitat on Rottnest is especially important for the Golden Whistler and Red-capped Robin. The population of both these species has declined on the Swan Coastal Plain, however surveys on the Island have indicated an increase in population size and colonisation of suitable reforested sites since 2009. Read more about the Western Whistler.
Get Involved with Research!
Research is currently being undertaken to determine the population size of Rock Parrots on Rottnest Island. This small parrot occurs on the rocky coastline and some islands of south and west Australia. Rock Parrots were common on Rottnest Island prior to the 1940s but the population was drastically reduced through predation by cats and by the removal of young birds in the 1940s and 1950s for the local bird keeping community.
Public support and sightings are needed for the success of this project and any feedback would be greatly appreciated to help conserve this species on the Island.
Reptiles and amphibians of Rottnest Island
The variety of reptiles and amphibians on Rottnest Island is relatively low when compared with the adjacent mainland. Only twenty-two species of frogs and reptiles have been recorded on the Island, whereas over ninety species are found in the Perth region.
Marine reptiles have been occasionally sighted in the waters around Rottnest Island, including green and loggerhead turtles. All frogs and reptiles are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1950, the Rottnest Island Authority Act 1987 and Rottnest Island Regulations 1988.
Since separating from the mainland 7,000 years ago, the flora and fauna on the Island have been isolated, and have experienced changes in environmental conditions. This has led in turn to changes in the appearance of a number of species from their mainland ancestors. These changes are significant enough for these animals to be described as separate sub-species. The dugite and the bobtail lizard (also known as blue tongue or shingle back lizard) are two examples of this genetic divergence.
Three species of frogs are found on Rottnest Island: the moaning frog, the western green tree frog (or motorbike frog) and the sandplain (or squelching) froglet. The moaning frog burrows by day and its long eerie moaning call can be heard at night around brackish swamps and freshwater seeps from late March. The sandplain froglet’s squelching calls begin after the first rain during April, before the swamps have filled, and continue through the winter wet season to early spring. The western green tree frog calls from late August to January with a long low-pitched growl likened to the sound of a motorcycle changing gears.
Seventeen species of lizards have been recorded on Rottnest Island. There are two types of geckos, two types of legless lizards and thirteen types of skinks. Commonly seen lizards include the Bobtail, King's Skink, Marbled Gecko, West Coast Ctenotus and Burton's Legless Lizard.
SnakesThere are two species of snakes present on the Island, the Southern Blind Snake and the Dugite. The Southern Blind Snake is a non-venomous burrowing snake, and the Dugite is a slender, dark brown, venomous snake. Dugites are frequently seen during the summer months, often lying on the road obtaining warmth from the sun and bitumen. Dugites are timid and non-aggressive, but they should always be treated with respect and caution as they are venomous.
Do not attempt to pick up or touch snakes, or any other reptiles or frogs.
Plants and wildflowers of Rottnest Island
Prior to separation from the mainland, Rottnest Island would have had the same range of plants found today on the adjacent mainland, where around 1,500 native species flourish. It is believed that Rottnest Island was separated from the mainland approximately 7,000 years ago.
The sea-level rose, cutting the island off from the land mass. Exposure to salt and wind eliminated hundreds of species at that time so that today there are only about 140 indigenous species left on the Island. However, fossil remains show that tuart, marri, jarrah, banksia and she-oaks once grew there. The native plants that remain are well adapted to the predominantly nutrient poor soils, along with the salty and often windy conditions.
The vegetation of Rottnest Island is dominated by the prickle lily (Acanthocarpus preissii) and feather speargrass (Austrostipa flavescens) heath community, which occurs in areas previously dominated by woodland. Over 60% of the Island is covered by this heath assemblage, with the summer-scented wattle (Acacia rostellifera) forming a closed scrub in association with the heath.
The woodland community on Rottnest comprises Rottnest Island Pine (Callitris preissii) and Rottnest Island Tea Tree (Melaleuca lanceolata). Prior to European settlement in 1831, over half of Rottnest Island was covered in large areas of woodland. European settlers quickly changed the landscape of Rottnest. Land was cleared and tracks made. Firewood was gathered, especially for the salt works, and the Island was repeatedly burned. Aboriginal prisoners often used fires as an aid in hunting quokkas. At present, approximately 4% of the Island is covered by scattered relic stands of woodland.
Along the coastline plants such as beach spinifex (Spinifex longifolius), the aromatic coastal rosemary (Westringia dampieri), coastal sword-sedge (Lepidosperma gladiatum), seaberry saltbush (Rhagodia baccata), and thick-leaved fan-flower (Scaevola crassifolia) can be found. On the salt lake shores an array of salt-water tolerant plants such as samphires, grey salt bush, and sedges can be found.
A well-known flower native to Rottnest Island, the Rottnest Island daisy (Trachymene coerulea subsp. coerulea), is actually a member of the carrot family, although it resembles a true daisy in its form. Fields of these bright purple flowers appear in spring and areas of Rottnest are transformed into carpets of purple. Although the daisy can be seen in most areas of the island, the dune areas behind Henrietta Rocks and Parker Point are especially attractive.
In addition to Rottnest Island's native woodland species there are many introduced varieties such as Norfolk Island pines, Moreton Bay figs, Aleppo pines, olive trees, palm trees and tuarts. Other introduced plants include two varieties of onion weeds that are primary colonisers, and hare’s tail grass (Lagurus ovatus).
The Rottnest Island Authority has been undertaking woodland restoration on Rottnest since 1963. Woodland restoration activities include seed collection, propagation, planting and weed control. In earlier years, tree species not naturally occurring on Rottnest such as tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) and coastal moort (Eucalyptus utilis) were planted in large stands. Apart from these stands not being representative of the natural habitat, many of these non-native species are not suited to the Island’s harsh conditions. Species such as tuart have high water demands and as a result put additional pressures on Rottnest’s limited groundwater supply.
Since 1995, only the two tree species native to the Island, Rottnest Island Pine and Rottnest Island Tea Tree, have been planted. Woodland restoration on Rottnest to date has predominantly involved planting within fenced restoration areas in order to exclude quokkas from grazing on the seedlings.