The outer island’s of Port Stephens comprise two groups: Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah and Little Island just outside the heads to Port Stephens and Broughton and Little Broughton Islands, 14 kms north-east of Port Stephens.

Cabbage Tree Island

Cabbage Tree Island is a small, rugged and uninhabited island lying 1.4 kilometres off the heads to Port Stephens. The island rises abruptly to a height of 123 metres and is around 1 kilometre long by 480 metres wide.

The vegetation includes cabbage tree palms, deciduous and sandpaper figs, native plums, and bird-lime trees. The island is also known as the John Gould Nature Reserve – the 30 hectare reserve is the principal breeding site of the threatened Gould’s petrel which nests in two gullies on the island’s western side.

Photo: Andy Benson, Flikr

They breed in colonies with the nests often less than 1 metre apart. Before significant active management of the island commenced, the breeding population was in decline.

By 1992 there were fewer than 250 breeding pairs of Gould’s petrel nesting on the island, fewer than 20% of the pairs were producing fledglings, fewer than 50 young were being produced each year, and adult mortality exceeded 50 birds each year.

Remedial management from 1992 onwards has included the eradication of rabbits on the island in 1997/98, the removal of bird-lime trees from petrel nesting habitat, and the culling of currawongs and ravens.

By 2004/05 it was estimated that the breeding colony on Cabbage Tree Island had increased to 2,500 individuals comprising 1,000 breeding pairs, that an average of 300 fledglings are produced annually, that 50% of pairs are producing fledged young, and average adult mortality is less than ten birds a year.

Boondelbah and Little Island

Boondelbah Island is a small, flat-topped, V-shaped island, surrounded by cliffs, about 600 by 400 metres, with a maximum height of about 40 metres.

In contrast to rainforest-covered Cabbage Tree Island, Boondelbah Island is virtually treeless with the vegetation dominated by mat rush and coastal rosemary, with tussocks of paroo lily and knobbly club rush.

Prickly pear covers much of the cliff tops. The island is also known as the Boondelbah Nature Reserve – the 14-hectare reserve is a breeding site of the threatened Gould’s petrel as well as little penguins. Shearwaters also roost there.

It was only in 1995 that a few breeding Gould’s petrels were found on Boondelbah.

In order to establish a second colony, in February 1999 a hundred Gould’s petrel chicks were translocated from Cabbage Tree Island to Boondelbah and placed in artificial nest boxes, with a further hundred being translocated in March 2000. Almost all the chicks fledged successfully. 

Little Island, the smallest of the three islands, is a bare rocky outcrop some 10 metres high. It is a nesting site for crested terns and silver gulls.

All three islands are gazetted nature reserves to protect their habitat from land uses incompatible with nature conservation. Access to all three is only permitted for scientific and conservation purposes. 

Broughton Island and Little Broughton Island

Broughton Island, located 3 kilometres offshore, is part of the Myall Lakes National Park which is over 44,000 hectares in size and comprises 10,000 hectares of waterways including Bombah Broadwater, Boolambayte Lake and Myall Lake.

The island was mistaken as a headland by James Cook in 1770 and named it Black Head. The 1852 Admiralty chart of the region recognises it as an island and renames it Broughton Island, after Captain William Broughton who in HMS Providence surveyed Port Stephens in August 1795.

Between 1905 and 1907, the island was used to test biological controls on rabbits.

Myall Lakes National Park was declared in 1972 – wedge-tailed shearwaters, known locally as muttonbirds, nest on the island, as well as little penguins, close to the northern limit of their range.

In November 2009, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service declared the island free from rabbits and rats.

Little Broughton Island (36 hectares) is part of the Myall Coast Reserves which also include two islands known as Inner Rock and North Rock – together known as Stormpetrel Nature Reserve (8 hectares).

These islands have been included in the NSW system of nature reserves in recognition of their particular importance to various species of sea birds.

Three species of protected shearwaters breed in large numbers on Little Broughton Island, with this location recognised as the most northern breeding site for the Short-Tailed Shearwater.

The Stormpetrel Nature Reserve provides important breeding habitat for sea birds, especially for ground nesting or burrowing species.

Two protected species, the Wedge-Tailed Shearwater and the White-Bellied Sea Eagle have been recorded here.