Dokdo consists of two tiny rocky islets surrounded by 33 smaller rocks. The Dokdo islets are located about 215 kilometers off the eastern border of Korea and 90 kilometers east of South Korea's Ullung Island. The islets are an administative part of Ullung Island, North Kyongsang province, under the control of the Department of Ocean and Fisheries. Dokdo is also 157 kilometers northwest of Japan's Oki Islands. Its exact position is 37° 14' 45" N and 131° 52' 30" E. Of the two Islets that make up Dokdo, Suhdo (the West islet) is a steep-sided rock about 100 meters high, while Dongdo (the East islet) is 174 meters high. The approximate total surface area of Dokdo is 0.186 square kilometers (56 acres). Both rocks, about 200 meters distant, are the remains of an ancient volcanic crater and are a refuge for Petrels and black-tailed gulls and several, partly endemic plants.
The government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) designated Dokdo 'Natural Monument No. 336' in 1982. The government generally does not allow private individuals to visit the island, but as of early 2005, the Korean government is expected to further lift restrictions on civillian visits to the islets.The first historical references to the island were cited in Korean documents, which make reference to them as a part of an independent island state known as "Usankuk" (Ullung Island) which was incorporated into the Korean Shilla Dynasty in 512 AD. Dokdo was first registered on charts in Europe after a French expedition under the leadership of Jean F.G. Perouse travelled to the East Sea/Sea of Japan in May of 1787, naming Ullung Island as "Dagelet", for a French astrologer, and Dokdo as "Boussole", after the name of one of the ships on the expedition. It was not until 1849, when French whale-hunters gave the name of their ship to the islets, that Dokdo began to be called "Liancourt Rocks". Other names have been ascribed to Dokdo ("Manalai and Olivutsa Rocks" by a Russian warship in 1854, and "Hornet Rocks" by the British, after one of their ships, the Hornet in 1855) but the name "Liancourt Rocks" is the only one of these names that is commonly seen on (usually older) English-language maps and sea charts published since 1910. The island was known to Koreans as "Kajido" (Sealion Island), "Sambongdo" (Three-Rock Island) and "Sokdo". Since at least 1881, the island has been called Dokdo by Koreans, meaning "Lonely Island" or "Rock Island", depending on the Sino-Korean character that one uses for the word, "Dok". Since at least 1905, the islets have been known by the Japanese name "Takeshima", but were previously known to Japanese as "Matsushima" or the "Rykano" islets.