The Archipelago, covering over 50 square kilometres. is located at the head of King Sound and is composed of about 800 islands found between King Sound and Collier Bay near Yampi Sound. The area experiences a huge tidal range, of over 12 metres, which once wreaked havoc on the pearling fleet that operated in the area last century. The islands' rocks are over 2 billion years old, as is the surrounding coastline. The islands themselves were formed more recently as a result of rising sea levels, creating a drowned coastline. The rocks are ancient Precambrian sandstones. The islands are generally rocky, many with high cliffs. The islands are in almost pristine condition as a result of their isolation and difficulty of access. Some are sparsely vegetated with patches of rain-forest, and areas fringed with mangroves where silt has built up.
The traditional owners of the area are the Mayala group made up of the Yawijibaya and Unggarranggu peoples although the Baada have traditional rights of fishing and trochus.
The archipelago was named after the English buccaneer and privateer William Dampier, who charted the area in 1688, by Philip Parker King in 1820.