These 122 islands, clustered into three groups, are mostly made up of coral reef structures with such important and unique biodiversity that the Houtman Abrolhos Islands have been described by marine biologists as the ‘Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean’.
The Abrolhos, famous as the site of the tragic 1629 wreck of the Dutch East Indiaman, Batavia, and the subsequent mutiny and rescue mission, has long been the sole domain of professional fishers and pearl farmers, but thanks to cray-fishers-turned-tourism-operators Jay and Sonia Cox of Eco Abrolhos, these magnificent islands and the azure waters that surround them are now accessible to everyone.
Spending a week at the islands on the Eco Abrolhos was a wonderful combination of being guided through a photographer’s paradise and a sport fishing wonderland at the same time.
The ocean off Geraldton can be rough, but once in the protected lagoons of the coral atolls, everything changes. The waters become calm and luminous with all shades of blue and green – there is life everywhere. Whales, dolphins and fish surround the boat and seabirds wheel in huge numbers. Visitors to the islands have always been few and far between, reflecting the lack of options for tourists. Perhaps that’s why I had so many intimate encounters with wildlife, untroubled by my presence.
The Australian sea lion is a relatively rare, curious inhabitant of the islands. They frequently swim and play with snorkellers and divers. While on a walk to hand-feed a giant cod that is landlocked in a lake on a small island, we came upon a young sea lion and her pup on a pristine beach. Taking a seat on the sand at a respectful distance for a few photos, the young pup shuffled right up to me and gently nuzzled my camera while its mother kept careful watch.
A few of the islands are bird sanctuaries and the sheer numbers and density of nesting birds are almost overwhelming. The white-bellied sea eagle let me know when I ventured a little too close to her nest, but the rare lesser noddies sat quietly and calmly as I as stood just centimetres away for a few photos. We then headed back to our floating hotel where the chef had simply dropped a line out the galley window to catch pink snapper and bald chin grouper for dinner. •
Dan used a pair of Canon 5D Mark IIIs with four lenses; Canon 70-200mm L f/2.8 II IS, Canon 24-70 L f/2.8 II, Canon 17mm L TS-E f/4 tilt-shift and Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 aided by the NISI filter system, Sunway L brackets and the SIRUI waterproof carbon tripod.