Environmental History

Coral Sea Islands

December 31, 2011, 9:43 am
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Osprey Reef, Coral Islands. Source: NASA

The Coral Sea Islands are collection of small uninhabitated islands and reefs scattered over a sea area of about 780,000 square kilometers in the Coral Sea, northeast of Australia, with the Willis Islets the most important.


The Coral Sea Islands were declared a territory of Australia in 1969. The islands are administered from Canberra by the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government

Geoscience Australia notes:

Discovered in 1803, the islands were briefly exploited for guano in the 1870s and 1880s but subsequently were abandoned. During the 19th century many ships were wrecked in the area as a result of constantly shifting sand cays and many of the coral reefs and islands have been named after the ships which foundered. They are still uninhabited but are home to a large population of seabirds.

Two species of sea turtle nest in the area and at least 24 bird species have been recorded. A Migratory Birds Ordinance is in force and gives effect to the Australia-Japan and Australia-China agreements on endangered and migratory birds.

In 1982, the Lihou Reef Nature Reserve and Coringa-Herald Nature Reserve were declared by the Commonwealth Government to protect the wildlife in that part of the Territory. In 1987, the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve was declared and now all wildlife in the Territory is legally protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulations.

Tropical cyclones sweep over the islands occasionally from around November to April. As a consequence there are a number of unmanned weather stations, beacons and a lighthouse located on several islands and reefs which are monitored by the Bureau of Meteorology.

The islands have no permanent freshwater resources. 

These islands are uninhabited except for a small meteorological staff on the Willis Islets. Automated weather stations, beacons, and a lighthouse occupy many other islands and reefs.

In November 2011, the Australian Government announced a  Proposed Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve - Draft for Comment/Public Consultation noting:

The Coral Sea Conservation Zone was created under national environmental law in May 2009 to provide interim protection while the area was being assessed as part of the marine bioregional planning program for possible inclusion in one or more Commonwealth marine reserves.

The proposed Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve covers approximately 989,842 square kilometres of tropical ocean and would be the largest marine park in the world. The proposed Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve is a remote ocean ecosystem. The nearest point is over 60 kilometres from the coast and extends out to 1100 kilometres from the coast. It encompasses sandy cays, coral reefs and the abundant marine life they support. It extends to depths of almost five kilometres in the remote, little known deep ocean environments of the region.

The proposed Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve covers waters adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and includes two existing highly protected Commonwealth marine reserves – Coringa?Herald National Nature Reserve and Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve. It adjoins the Exclusive Economic Zones of two of the Coral Triangle countries in the north – Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands – and New Caledonia in the east. Once established, the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve will become part of the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) within which examples of all the different marine ecosystems and habitats found in Australian waters will be protected. The NRSMPA is a joint endeavour with the states and Northern Territory that commenced in 1998.

This proposal will establish the world's largest marine reserve, covering an area more than one-and-a-half times the size of France, with new limits on fishing limits and a ban on oil and gas exploration. The proposal was subject to a 90-day consultation.

Location: Oceania, islands in the Coral Sea, northeast of Australia

Geographic Coordinates: 18 00 S, 152 00 E

Area: Less than three sq km. of land area.  Note: This includes numerous small islands and reefs scattered over a sea area of about 780,000 sq km, with the Willis Islets the most important.

Coastline: 3095 km

Maritime Claims:

Territorial sea: 3 nm
Exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Natural Hazards: Occasional tropical cyclones

Terrain:  Sand and coral reefs and islands (or cays).  The highest point is an unnamed location on Cato Island (six meters in elevation).

Climate: Tropical




Agency, C. (2011). Coral Sea Islands. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf26f7896bb431f6a94f3


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