© The Geological Society of London 2016. This paper focuses on the continental shelf of NW Australia, and on models for change in littoral and offshore environments of relevance to human occupation over the last 50 kyr. Major island groups occur on the shelf including the Montebello and Barrow islands, and those of the Dampier Archipelago. At lowest sea level around 22 ka, these would have been uplands that then became progressively isolated by subsequent sea-level rise. By integrating archaeological and zooarchaeological records from excavations on these islands with the geology and geomorphology, we interpret palaeoeconomic resource potential in relation to changing sea level and coastline morphology. The preservation potential for submerged archaeological sites and features is also assessed. Current archaeological evidence from these offshore islands indicates that the submerged coastal landscape is likely to have been a potentially rich environment for resources and human occupation, even at times of lowest sea level and regional aridity. Should any exploration of submerged archaeology be carried out in this region, it is likely to be rewarding, offering unique insights into Late Pleistocene coastal occupation.