Where are the Kerguelen Islands?

Baie Larose, Kerguelen – © F. Lebouard

The Kerguelen Islands, also known as the Desolation Islands, are a group of islands located in the southern Indian Ocean, specifically, they are situated in the Antarctic Convergence Zone, around 4800km southeast of Africa, and around 4800km southwest of Australia.

At a latitude of 49° 35’ S, the Islands are over 2000km north of the Antarctic continent in an area that is known to have sea ice during the winter months, particularly from May to October.


However, the sea ice around the Kerguelen Islands is not as extensive as the sea ice found near the Antarctic coast and it is not permanent. It is typically made up of pack ice and sea ice floes that form and melt with the seasons.

When Global Solo Challenge skippers will sail past the archipelago in the austral late spring to early summer no ice is expected in the area. The Islands will not be part of the ice exclusion zone and can provide shelter from the South Indian ocean swell should a skipper need calmer water to carry out some repairs. It’s important to note that sea ice extent is not constant and can change considerably from year to year, and it’s also affected by climate change.

The archipelago is made up of one main island, Grande Terre, and several smaller islands, including Île des Curieux, Île de la Possession, and Île de l’Est. The islands are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are uninhabited by humans, with the exception of a small research station.


The Kerguelen Islands were first discovered by the French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec in 1772. He named the islands after himself and claimed them for France. However, the islands were not officially annexed by France until 1893. Today, the islands are used primarily for scientific research and are home to several research stations operated by France and other countries.

The Kerguelen Islands are known for their remote location, harsh climate, and rugged terrain. The islands are mostly covered in glaciers and snow, with rocky cliffs and steep valleys. The climate is cold and windy, with heavy precipitation and frequent storms. The islands are also known for their unique flora and fauna, including a variety of mosses, lichens, and seabirds.

The Kerguelen Islands are also home to a large population of seals, including the southern elephant seal and the subantarctic fur seal. These seals are an important part of the island’s ecosystem and are protected by French law. The islands are also home to several species of penguins, including the king penguin and the southern rockhopper penguin.


The islands are also an important destination for scientists studying earth science, particularly geology and oceanography. The Kerguelen Plateau, a large submerged plateau located near the islands, is an important area for studying plate tectonics and the history of the Earth’s crust. The islands and surrounding waters are also home to a variety of unique marine life, including deep-sea fish and invertebrates.

Despite the harsh conditions and remote location of the Kerguelen Islands, they have a long history of human activity. The islands have been visited by sealers, whalers, and scientific expeditions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the islands are visited by a small number of tourists each year, who come to see the unique wildlife and rugged landscapes.


During the Vendèe Globe 2016/2017, on 1st December, some 160 miles NE of the Kerguelen Islands, the helicopter on the French Navy frigate Le Nivôse went to rendez-vous with French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h and Brit Alex Thomson (courtesy of Marine Nationale / TF1 / Nefertiti Prod) sending back some stunning images of the two boats sailing in typical Roaring Forties windy and gray conditions.