Arafura Sea

The Arafura Sea (or Arafuru Sea) lies west of the Pacific Ocean, overlying the continental shelf between Australia and Indonesian New Guinea.

Arafura Sea
Locatie Arafurazee
Arafura Sea is located in Indonesia
Arafura Sea
Arafura Sea
Arafura Sea map
Coordinates9°00′S 133°0′E / 9.000°S 133.000°ECoordinates: 9°00′S 133°0′E / 9.000°S 133.000°E
Basin countriesAustralia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea
Max. length1,290 km (800 mi)
Max. width560 km (350 mi)
IslandsAru Islands, Croker Island, Goulburn Islands, Howard Island


The Arafura Sea is bordered by the Torres Strait and through that the Coral Sea to the east, the Gulf of Carpentaria to the south, the Timor Sea to the west and the Banda and Ceram seas to the northwest. It is 1,290 kilometres (800 mi) long and 560 kilometres (350 mi) wide. The depth of the sea is mainly 50–80 metres (165–260 feet), with the depth increasing to the west.

The sea lies over the Arafura Shelf, part of the Sahul Shelf. When sea levels were low during the last glacial maximum, the Arafura Shelf, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Torres Strait formed a large flat land bridge connecting Australia and New Guinea and easing migration of humans from Asia into Australia. The combined landmass formed the continent of Sahul.


The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) defines the Arafura Sea as being one of the waters of the East Indian Archipelago. The IHO defines its limits as follows:[2]

On the North. The Southeastern limit of the Ceram Sea [A line from Karoefa, New Guinea, to the Southeastern extreme of Adi Island, thence to Tg. Borang, the Northern point of Noehoe Tjoet [Kai Besar] (5°17′S 133°09′E / 5.283°S 133.150°E)] and the Eastern limit of the Banda Sea [From Tg Borang, the Northern point of Noehoe Tjoet, through this island to its Southern point, thence a line to the Northeast point of Fordata, through this island and across to the Northeast point of Larat, Tanimbar Islands (7°06′S 131°55′E / 7.100°S 131.917°E), down the East coast of Jamdena [Yamdena] Island to its Southern point, thence through Anggarmasa to the North point of Selaroe and through this island to Tg Aro Oesoe its Southern point (8°21′S 130°45′E / 8.350°S 130.750°E)].

On the East. The Southwest coast of New Guinea from Karoefa (133°27'E) to the entrance to the Bensbak River (141°01'E), and thence a line to the Northwest extreme of York Peninsula, Australia (11°05′S 142°03′E / 11.083°S 142.050°E).

On the South. By the North coast of Australia from the Northwest extreme of York Peninsula to Cape Don (11°19′S 131°46′E / 11.317°S 131.767°E).

On the West. A line from Cape Don to Tanjong Aro Oesoe, the Southern point of Selaroe (Tanimbar Islands).


The sea's name appeared in George Windsor Earl's 1837 Sailing Directions for the Arafura Sea, in which he compiled from the narratives of Lieuts. Kolff and Modera of the Royal Netherlands Navy.[3]

It has been suggested that the name Arafura is of Portuguese origin, a corruption of the word "Alfours", meaning "free men", but recent research at the Dutch National Archives has revealed that AJ van der Aa's 1939 Toponymic Dictionary records "the inhabitants of the Moluccas called themselves 'haraforas', translating 'Anak anak gunung' as 'children of the mountains'."

European recording of his name dates back to at least 1663 when Blaeu records in the texts on his wall map of the East Indies "Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus", that the inland inhabitants of the Moluccas call themselves "Alfores".[4]

The Arafura Sea name is from the indigenous name for "the people of mountains" in the Moluccas (part of Indonesia) as identified by Dutch Lieutenants Kolff and Modera in the 1830s.[3]

Thomas Forrest sailed through the Moluccas (Maluku Islands) in 1775 and retailed reports of "Harafora" people living in the western end of New Guinea in subordination to the "Papuas", and mentioned them also in Magindano (Mindanao).[5] The geographer Conrad Malte-Brun repeated Forrest's reports of a race of "Haraforas", in 1804,[6] and added Borneo to the distribution.[7] The ethnologist James C. Prichard described them as head-hunters.[8] The form "Horrafora" was recorded by John Coulter, in his account[9] of a sojourn in the interior of south-west New Guinea in 1835, and applied to the tribespeople there. Coulter concluded that Papuans and Horraforas were two distinct races in New Guinea.


The Arafura Sea is a rich fishery resource, particularly for shrimp and demersal fishing. Economically important species include Barramundi, grouper, Penaeid shrimp, Nemipteridae fishes, among other kinds of fish.

In a world where marine ecosystems and fish stocks are generally collapsing, the Arafura Sea stands out as among the richest marine fisheries in the world.[10] However, the Arafura is coming under ever more intense pressure from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.

Established in 2002, the Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF) seeks to promote economically and environmentally sustainable management of the seas.[11][12]

See also


  1. ^ Arafura Sea: OS (Oceans) National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Bethesda, MD, USA
  2. ^ "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition" (PDF). International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. pp. 27–28. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Earl, George Windsor; Kolff, D. H.; Modera, Justin (1837). "Sailing directions for the Arafura Sea". Hydrographic Office, London.
  4. ^ Joan Blaeu Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus Apud Ioannem Blaeu Published: Amsterdam Apud Joannem Blaeu, 1663
  5. ^ Captain Thomas Forrest, A Voyage to New Guinea, and the Moluccas, from Balambangan: &c. (Dublin, 1779).
  6. ^ Edme Mentelle & Malte Brun, Géographie mathématique, physique et politique de toutes les parties du monde, &c., vol. XII (Paris, Henry Tardieu & Laporte, 1804), pages 400, 597.
  7. ^ M. Malte-Brun, Universal Geography, or a Description of All the Parts of the World on a New Plan, &c., vol. III (Edinburgh, Adam Black, 1822).
  8. ^ James Clowes Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Man (London, J. & A. Arch, 1813), page 307.
  9. ^ John Coulter, M.D., Adventures on the Western Coast of South America and the Interior of California: including a narrative of incidents at the Kingsmill Islands, New Ireland, New Britain, New Guinea, and other islands in the Pacific Ocean; &c., vol. II (London, Longmans, 1847), chapters 11—16.
  10. ^ Biophysical Profile of the Arafura and Timor Seas.
  11. ^ Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF)
  12. ^ The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Program (ATSEA)
Arafura Games

The Arafura Games is a unique, inclusive multi-sport event where athletes with a disability compete in the same program as able-bodied athletes. Competitors from around the world compete in the week-long games held every 2 years in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.Called a "meeting of Sporting Neighbours", the Arafura Games takes its name from the Arafura Sea, which lies between northern Australia and Southeast Asia. Nations along the Arafura Sea originally formed the basis of the Arafura Games, however in recent years countries from further afield have participated, including United States, England, Brazil and Liechtenstein.

Arafura catfish

The Arafura catfish (Netuma proxima), also known as the Arafura sea catfish, is a species of catfish in the family Ariidae. It was described by James Douglas Ogilby in 1898, originally under the genus Arius. It inhabits marine, brackish and freshwaters in the western Pacific. It reaches a maximum standard length of 46 cm (18 in).The diet of the Arafura catfish includes worms, finfish, crustaceans such as crabs and amphipods, mollusks, echinoderms, algae and insects.

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500 km (310 mi) from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km2 (37,000 sq mi), which also covers the area of Kakadu National Park, and a population of 16,230. In 1623, Dutch East India Company captain William van Colster sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape Arnhem is named after his ship, the Arnhem, which itself was named after the city of Arnhem in the Netherlands.

The area covers about 97,000 km2 and has an estimated population of 16,000, of whom 12,000 are Yolngu, the traditional owners. The region's service hub is Nhulunbuy, 600 km east of Darwin, set up in the early 1970s as a mining town (bauxite). Other major population centres are Yirrkala (just outside Nhulunbuy), Gunbalanya (formerly Oenpelli), Ramingining, and Maningrida.

A substantial proportion of the population, which is mostly Aboriginal, lives on small outstations. This outstation movement started in the early 1980s. Many Aboriginal groups moved to usually very small settlements on their traditional lands, often to escape the problems (alcohol, petrol-sniffing, idleness) on the larger townships.

These population groups have very little Western influence culturally speaking, and Arnhem Land is arguably one of the last areas in Australia that could be seen as a completely separate country. Many of the region's leaders have called and continue to call for a treaty that would allow the Yolngu to operate under their own traditional laws.

In 2013–14, the entire region contributed around $1.3 billion or 7% to the Northern Territory's gross state product, mainly through bauxite mining.

Aru Islands Regency

The Aru Islands Regency (Indonesian: Kabupaten Kepulauan Aru) are a group of about ninety-five low-lying islands in the Maluku province of eastern Indonesia. They also form a regency of Maluku, with a land area of 8,152.42 square kilometres (3,147.67 square miles). At the 2011 Census the Regency had a population of 84,138; the latest official estimate (as of January 2014) was 93,722.

Blyth River (Northern Territory)

The Blyth River is a river in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Bremer Island

Bremer Island, or Dhambaliya in the local language is an island in the Arafura Sea, in the northwest of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 3.4 km off the northeast corner of Arnhem Land (Cape Wirawawoi), Northern Territory, Australia.

Buckingham River

Buckingham River is a river in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The headwaters of the river are on the northern edge on the eastern side of the Mitchell Ranges near where the Central Arnhem Road crosses the Range. The river flows in a northerly direction though uninhabited country until it discharges into Buckingham Bay and the Arafura Sea.

The estuary formed at the river mouth is tidal in nature and in near pristine condition.The catchment area of the river is 7,510 square kilometres (2,900 sq mi) and has an annual average discharge of 2,330 gigalitres (3.047524943×109 cu yd).The traditional owners of the area are the Murngin also known as the Yolngu peoples.

The Aboriginal community of Gapuwiyak still has supplies taken by barge up the river to be delivered. The community is 20 kilometres (12 mi) by road from the landing.

Croker Island

Croker Island is an island in the Arafura Sea off the coast of the Northern Territory, Australia, 200 km northeast of Darwin. It is separated from Cobourg Peninsula in the west by Bowen Strait, which is 2.5 km wide in the south and up to 7 km in the north, and 8.5 km long. In the north and east is the Arafura Sea, and in the south and southeast Mountnorris Bay. Croker Island measures 43 km from Point David (south, local name Inngirnatj) to Cape Croker (north), up to 15 km wide, and has an area of 331.5 km² (128.0 sq. miles). At its highest point it is only 15 m (50 feet) above sea level. Croker Island is the largest island, and the only permanently inhabited island, in the Croker Group.


The Gaari were an indigenous Australian people of the Northern territory, who lived on a small island in the Arafura Sea.

Goomadeer River

The Goomadeer River is a river in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Goulburn Islands

The Goulburn Islands are a group of small islands and islets in the Arafura Sea off the coast of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory of Australia. The largest islands are the North and South Goulburn Islands where the climate is slightly cooler than in Darwin. The Maung Aboriginal people are the traditional owners of the Goulburn Islands.

The islands and their indigenous inhabitants are featured in the 2015 David Grubin produced PBS documentary "Language Matters with Bob Holman" which focuses on the loss of many of the planets' native tongues such as those spoken in the Goulburns due to globalisation.Approximately 300 people live in the Goulburn Islands. The majority of the population reside on South Goulburn Island, in the community of Warruwi and surrounding outstations.Facilities in the community include a primary through secondary education school, health clinic, supermarket, police station, several coal-burning facilities (operated mostly by caucasian females with significant help from island locals), a council office, and an Aboriginal arts center sustained by public funding.

Haul Round Island

Haul Round Island is a 6 ha island in the Arafura Sea, lying close to the north central coast of Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia. It consists mainly of sand with a few rocks and nearby patches of mangroves. It is close to the town of Maningrida. It has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it has one of the largest seabird colonies in the Northern Territory.Counts of seabirds at Haul Island show that it supports up to 5000 roseate terns, 5000 bridled terns and hundreds of nesting crested terns, as well as silver gulls. Some 150-200 pied cormorants nest in the mangroves on an adjacent reef. Although the colony is active every year, in some years the roseate terns nest on other islands. Tern eggs are frequently harvested by the Aboriginal traditional owners of the island.

Higginson Island

Higginson Island is a small island in the Arafura Sea lying off the north-eastern coast of Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is one of the East Bremer Islets, lying to the north and east of the much larger Bremer Island.

Howard Island

Howard Island is an island in the Arafura Sea, Northern Territory, Australia. It belongs to East Arnhem Region, and is evenly divided between Gumurr Gatjirrk Ward in the west and Gumurr Marthakal Ward in the east. The only settlements are two family outstations. Nikawu is located on the eastern end, and Langarra, the main settlement, on the north coast in the western part of the island.Howard Island is 39 km long and maximally 10 km wide. The area is 280.3 km². It is separated from the mainland by a long and narrow marine channel, which is only 70 m wide in places. 1600 m northeast of Howard Island is Elcho Island, and 1400 m to the southwest is Banyan Island.

Lorentz River

The Lorentz River (also Unir or Undir) is located in the Indonesian province of Papua in Western New Guinea, about 3500 km northeast of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. It originates in the central east-west mountain range of New Guinea, and flows southwards into the Arafura Sea at Flamingo Bay. During the first two Dutch expeditions to Southern New Guinea (1907–10) it was called Northern River. In 1910 it was renamed after the Dutch explorer Hendrikus Albertus Lorentz. After it became part of Indonesia, it was renamed to Unir, as in the language of the local Asmat people, while the Lorentz name is still in use.

Papua (province)

Papua is the largest and easternmost province of Indonesia, comprising most of Western New Guinea. It is bordered by the state of Papua New Guinea to the east, the province of West Papua to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the north, and the Arafura Sea to the south. According to the 2010 census by Statistics Indonesia, Papua had a population of 2,833,381, majority of whom are Christians. The province is divided into twenty-eight regencies and one city. Its capital and largest city is Jayapura.

The province was formerly called Irian Jaya and comprised the entire Western New Guinea until the inauguration of the province of West Papua in 2003. In 2002, Papua adopted its current name and was granted a special autonomous status by the Indonesian legislation. Puncak Jaya is the province's highest mountain as well as the highest point of Indonesia.

Timor Sea

The Timor Sea (Indonesian: Laut Timor; Portuguese: Mar de Timor; Tetum: Tasi Mane or Tasi Timór) is a relatively shallow sea bounded to the north by the island of Timor, to the east by the Arafura Sea, to the south by Australia.

The sea contains a number of reefs, uninhabited islands and significant hydrocarbon reserves. International disputes emerged after the reserves were discovered resulting in the signing of the Timor Sea Treaty.

The Timor Sea was hit by the worst oil spill for 25 years in 2009.It is possible that Australia's first inhabitants crossed the Timor Sea from Indonesia at a time when sea levels were lower.

Torres Strait

The Torres Strait () is a strait which lies between Australia and the Melanesian island of New Guinea. It is approximately 150 km (93 mi) wide at its narrowest extent. To the south is Cape York Peninsula, the northernmost extremity of the Australian mainland. To the north is the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. It is named after navigator Luís Vaz de Torres, who passed through the Strait in 1606.

Yos Sudarso

Commodore Yosaphat "Yos" Sudarso (24 November 1925 – 15 January 1962) was an Indonesian naval officer killed at the Battle of Arafura Sea. At the time of his death, Yos Sudarso was deputy chief of staff of the Indonesian Navy and in charge of an action to infiltrate Dutch New Guinea.The Battle near Vlakke Hoek (Etna Bay) of the Arafura Sea stopped an attempt by the Indonesian Navy to drop off 150 soldiers in Kaimana in Dutch New Guinea for sabotage and to incite the local population against the Dutch government. Sudarso was in charge of the operation at sea, while colonel Murshid commanded the infiltrants. Three torpedo boats left the Aru Islands in the middle of the night but were intercepted by a Dutch reconnaissance plane, as the Dutch had anticipated the action for weeks. The torpedo boats responded to the flares sent off by the plane by shooting at it. The Dutch frigate HMS Evertsen then joined the scene and sunk the KRI Macan Tutul, commanded by Sudarso. The other two ships, KRI Macan Kumbang and KRI Harimau, fled, but one hit a reef and the other was disabled by shooting. The Evertsen was able to save most occupants of the Macan Tutul, but at least three sailors died, among whom was commodore Sudarso.The action itself was an abject failure and General Nasution even refused to relay the bad news to Sukarno, forcing colonel Murshid to do this in person. However, the small battle was partially responsible for the subsequent involvement of the Soviet Union and United States in the case of Dutch New Guinea, and it is honored in Indonesia by "Sea Sacrifice Day," an annual nationwide day of remembrance. Twelve years after his death, Yos Sudarso was officially added to the register of Indonesian heroes of the Revolution. Indonesia issued a special postage stamp to commemorate his service to his country, while the KRI Harimau was made into a monument in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.

Indonesia's Yos Sudarso Island and Yos Sudarso Bay are named in his honor. There is also an ex-Dutch warship named KRI Yos Sudarso (ship number 353) in honor of him. It is still active in the fleet today.

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