Ashmore and Cartier Islands

The Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands[1] is an uninhabited external territory[2] of Australia consisting of four low-lying tropical islands in two separate reefs, and the 12 nautical mile territorial sea generated by the islands.[3] The territory is located in the Indian Ocean situated on the edge of the continental shelf, about 320 km (199 mi) off the northwest coast of Australia and 144 km (89 mi) south of the Indonesian island of Rote.[3]

Ashmore Reef is called Pulau Pasir by Indonesians and Nusa Solokaek in the Rotenese language. Both names have the meaning "sand island".[4]

Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Ashmore and Cartier Islands on the globe (Southeast Asia centered) (small islands magnified)
Location of the Ashmore and Cartier Islands
LocationIndian Ocean
Population0 (1 January 2011)
Ashmore and Cartier Islands


The Territory comprises Ashmore Reef, which includes West, Middle, and East Islands, and two lagoons, and Cartier Reef, which includes Cartier Island. Ashmore Reef covers approximately 150 km2 (57.9 sq mi) and Cartier Reef 9 km2 (3 sq mi), both measurements extending to the limits of the reefs.[5] They have a total of 74.1 km (46 mi) of shoreline, measured along the outer edge of the reef. Australia also claims a 12 nautical mile territorial sea generated by the islands.[3]

West, Middle, and East Islands have a combined land area variously reported as 54 ha, 93 ha, and 112 ha (1 hectare is 0.01 km2, or about 2.5 acres).[6][7][8] Cartier Island has a reported land area of 0.4 ha.[7]


By a British Order-in-council dated 23 July 1931, Ashmore and Cartier Islands were placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia, but Australia officially accepted the Territory on 10 May 1934 when the Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1933 came into operation. The Act authorised the Governor of Western Australia to make Ordinances for the Territory. In July 1938 the Territory was annexed to the Northern Territory, then also administered by the Commonwealth, whose laws, ordinances and regulations applied to the Territory. When self-government was granted to the Northern Territory on 1 July 1978, administration of the Territory was retained by the Commonwealth.[3][5]

In 1983 the Territory was declared a nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975,[3] now replaced by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.[9]

After the islands became a first point of contact with the Australian migration zone, in September 2001, the Australian government excised the Ashmore and Cartier Islands from the Australian migration zone.[3]

Indonesian heritage and memorandum

Ashmore has been regularly visited and fished by Indonesian fishermen since the early eighteenth century. A 1974 Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia sets out arrangements by which traditional fishers can access resources in Australia's territorial sea in the region. This allows traditional Indonesian fishermen to access parts of Ashmore for shelter, freshwater and to visit grave sites. The area, known as the MOU Box, contains the Ashmore and Cartier Islands Territory.[10]

Some Indonesian groups claim Ashmore Reef to be part of Rote Ndao Regency of East Nusa Tenggara province.


Today, the Territory is administered from Canberra by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, which is also responsible for the administration of the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island.[11]

The Attorney-General's Department had been responsible for the administration of Australian territories until the 2010 federal election. In that year the responsibility for Australian territories was transferred to the then Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport,[3] and from 18 September 2013 the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has administered Australian territories.

Defence of Ashmore and Cartier Islands is the responsibility of Australia, with periodic visits by the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

Nearby Hibernia Reef, 42 km (26 mi) northeast of Ashmore Reef, is not part of the Territory, but belongs to Western Australia.[12] It has no permanently dry land area, although large parts of the reef become exposed during low tide.

Environment and protection

Cartier Island
Cartier Island and surrounding reef (NASA satellite image)


There is no economic activity in the Territory, Ashmore and Cartier Islands being uninhabited. Cartier Island is an unvegetated sand island.[7] Access to Cartier Island is prohibited because of the risk of unexploded ordnances. There are no ports or harbours, only offshore anchorage. The customs vessel ACV Ashmore Guardian is stationed off the reef for up to 330 days per year.[13] The islands are also visited by seasonal caretakers and occasional scientific researchers.

The area has been a traditional fishing ground of Indonesian fishermen for centuries, and continues. In the 1850s, American whalers operated in the region. Mining of phosphate deposits took place on Ashmore Island in the latter half of the 19th century.[3] Today, all the wells in the Territory are infected with cholera or contaminated and undrinkable.[14]

Petroleum extraction activities take place at the Jabiru and Challis oil fields, which are adjacent to the Territory, and which are administered by the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy on behalf of the Commonwealth.[3]


As Ashmore Reef is the closest point of Australian territory to Indonesia, it was a popular target for people smugglers transporting asylum seekers en route to Australia.[15] Once they had landed on Ashmore Island, asylum seekers could claim to have entered Australian migration zone and request to be processed as refugees. The use of Ashmore Island for this purpose created great notoriety during late 2001, when refugee arrivals became a major political issue in Australia. The Australian Government argued that as Australia was not the country of first asylum for these "boat people", Australia did not have a responsibility to accept them.

A number of things were done to discourage the use of the Territory for this purpose, such as attempting to have the people smugglers arrested in Indonesia; the so-called Pacific Solution of processing them in third countries; the boarding and forced turnaround of the boats by Australian military forces; and finally excising the Territory and many other small islands from the Australian migration zone.

Two boatloads of asylum seekers were each detained for several days in the lagoon at Ashmore Island after failed attempts by the Royal Australian Navy to turn them back to Indonesia in October 2001.

See also



  1. ^ The Central Intelligence Agency (2010). The World Factbook. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-59797-541-4.
  2. ^ "10: External territories". Legal Risk in International Transactions (ALRC Report 80). Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), Australian Government. 2006. ISBN 0642254877. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ashmore and Cartier Islands". Territories of Australia. Department of the Infrastructure and Regional Development, Australian Government. 2014-01-29. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  5. ^ a b Year Book Australia, 1981, p.2
  6. ^ Carter, Mike; Clarke, Rohan; Pierce, Frank; Dooley, Sean; Swann, George; Grant, Murray (2010). "Lesser Coucal 'Centropus bengalensis' on Ashmore Reef: First Record for Australia". Australian Field Ornithology. 27 (3). ISSN 1448-0107. Within the reef are three small islands: West, Middle and east Islands (total land area 54 ha). The largest and most heavily vegetated is West Island...
  7. ^ a b c Taylor & Francis Group (2004). The Europa World Year Book 2004 (45th ed.). Europa Publications, Taylor & Francis Group. p. 611. ISBN 978-1-85743-254-1.
  8. ^ "Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve and Cartier Island Marine Reserve". Marine Protected Areas. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Australian Government. Archived from the original on 2011-07-09.
  9. ^ Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
  10. ^ "Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Commonwealth Marine Reserves: Information for visitors" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  11. ^ Assistant Director, Territories and Disaster Reconstruction Division (16 June 2012). "Territories of Australia". Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport. Archived from the original on 11 February 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2008.
  12. ^ States of Australia Retrieved 2011-06-23
  13. ^ "Australian Customs Vessel Ashmore Guardian" (PDF). Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
  14. ^ "Bizarre Happenings at Reef". Navy News. Royal Australian Navy. 28 June 1999. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  15. ^ Anita Roberts "Don't let them drown" Inside Indonesia Apr–Jun 2001, vol. 64

External links

Coordinates: 12°15′30″S 123°02′30″E / 12.25833°S 123.04167°E

Aipysurus foliosquama

Aipysurus foliosquama, also known as the leaf-scaled sea snake, is a critically endangered species of venomous sea snake in the family Elapidae. It is endemic to the Ashmore and Cartier Islands of Australia.The leaf-scaled sea snake prefers waters up to 10 metres in depth. In December 2015 a population of the snakes was found living in seagrass beds of Shark Bay off Western Australia. Previously, its only known habitats were some 1,700 km away in the Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs in the Timor Sea, from where it had since disappeared.

Australian Indian Ocean Territories

Australian Indian Ocean Territories is the name since 1995 of an administrative unit under the Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, consisting of two islands groups in the Indian Ocean under Australian sovereignty:

Christmas Island (10.485°S 105.636°E / -10.485; 105.636 (Christmas Island)), where the administrator resides

Cocos (Keeling) Islands archipelago (12.158°S 96.870°E / -12.158; 96.870 (Cocos (Keeling) Islands)), where the same officer also has jurisdiction as administrator but does not resideEach of these island components has its own Shire Council: the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos.

It does not include the uninhabited Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

Birds of Ashmore Reef

The Birds of Ashmore Reef comprise three main groups:

Seabirds, including at least five species of breeding terns, with several other seabirds, including petrels, recorded in the surrounding waters

Migratory shorebirds en route from northern Asia to Australia

Landbirds, only three breeding species (two herons and a rail) but several others, including passerines, visit, either on migration to northern Australia or as vagrants

Cartier Island

Cartier Island is an uninhabited and unvegetated sand cay in a platform reef in the Timor Sea north of Australia and south of Indonesia. It is within the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, an external territory of Australia. The land area of Cartier Island is about 0.4 hectares (0.99 acres). It is located at 12°31′S 123°33′E, on the edge of the Sahul Shelf, about 300 kilometres (190 mi) off the north west coast of Western Australia, 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of the Indonesian island of Roti, and 70 kilometres (43 mi) south-east of Ashmore Reef.

At the southern edge of the reef is a shipwreck of the Ann Millicent, an iron-hulled barge of 944 tons wrecked in 1888. The remains of an RAAF Beaufighter can also be seen at low tide. Formerly used as a bombing range, access to the island is prohibited because of the risk of unexploded ordnances. The area is still a gazetted Defence Practice Area, but is no longer in active use.

Cartier Island is completely unvegetated except for the seagrass Thallassia hemprichii, which grows in pockets of sand within the reef, and may be exposed at low tide.

Cleome gynandra

Cleome gynandra is a species of Cleome that is used as a green vegetable. It is known by many common names including Shona cabbage, African cabbage, spiderwisp, cat's whiskers, chinsaga and stinkweed. It is an annual wildflower native to Africa but has become widespread in many tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. It is an erect, branching plant generally between 25 cm and 60 cm tall. Its sparse leaves are each made up of 3-5 oval-shaped leaflets. The flowers are white, sometimes changing to rose pink as they age. The seed is a brown 1.5 mm diameter sphere. The leaves and flowers are both edible. The leaves have a strong bitter, sometimes peppery flavor similar to mustard greens.

Cordia subcordata

Cordia subcordata is a species of flowering tree in the borage family, Boraginaceae, that occurs in eastern Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, northern Australia and the Pacific Islands. The plant is known by a variety of names including beach cordia, sea trumpet, and kerosene wood, among others.

East Island

East Island can refer to:

East Island (Andaman & Nicobar Islands)

East Island (Ashmore and Cartier Islands)

East Island, Hawaii, an island washed away by storm surge from Hurricane Walaka

East Island (Lacepede Islands), Western Australia

East Island (Mary Anne Group), Western Australia

East Island/Whangaokeno, New Zealand

East Island (Oregon)

East Island, Papua New Guinea

East Island, Rhode Island

East Island (South Australia)

East Island (Tasmania)

East Falkland

East Island (Ashmore and Cartier Islands)

East Island is one of three islets of Ashmore Reef, which is a part of Ashmore and Cartier Islands. It is located at 12°15′S 123°05′E, about midway between Australia and Timor. It is often referred to as East Islet, a name that is used, for example, in The World Factbook; the islet's gazetted name is, however, East Island.It has an area of around 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft). Like the other islands on the reef, it is unpopulated. Politically it is part of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, an external territory of Australia. Some Indonesian groups dispute Australia's claim to these island, however.

Flora of Ashmore and Cartier Islands

The Flora of Ashmore and Cartier Islands consists of 16 families, 23 genera and 27 species. Four of these species are introduced and naturalised. In addition, two species have been introduced but not naturalised. The vegetation is dominated by shrubs, grasses and creepers. The vast majority of species have seeds that are very easily transported by the wind, birds or the sea.

Guettarda speciosa

Guettarda speciosa, with common names sea randa, or zebra wood, is a species of shrub in the family Rubiaceae found in coastal habitats in tropical areas around the Pacific Ocean, including the coastline of central and northern Queensland and Northern Territory in Australia, and Pacific Islands, including Micronesia, French Polynesia and Fiji, Malaysia and Indonesia and the east coast of Africa. It reaches 6 m in height, has fragrant white flowers, and large green prominently-veined leaves. It grows in sand above the high tide mark.

Heliotropium foertherianum

Heliotropium foertherianum is a species of flowering plant in the borage family, Boraginaceae. It is native to tropical Asia including southern China, Madagascar, northern Australia, and most of the atolls and high islands of Micronesia and Polynesia. Common names include velvetleaf soldierbush, tree heliotrope, veloutier, and octopus bush. It is a shrub or small tree typical of littoral zones reaching a height of 3.6 m (12 ft), with a spread of about 5 m (16 ft).

List of butterflies of Australia

Australia has more than 400 species of butterfly, the majority of which are continental species, and more than a dozen endemic species from remote islands administered by various Australian territorial governments. The largest butterflies in the world are endemic to the Australasian ecozone. They are the birdwings—Ornithoptera and other genera—of the Troidini tribe of swallowtail butterflies (Papilionidae).


The MOU Box, or sometimes the MOU 74 Box, refers to a rectangular tract of marine waters in the Timor Sea, lying within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, that is subject to a 1974 memorandum of understanding, and subsequent agreements, between Australia and Indonesia. The MOU Box covers an area of about 50,000 km2 including Scott and Seringapatam Reefs, Browse Island, and Ashmore and Cartier Islands. Australia declared a marine protected area around Ashmore Island in 1983, and around Cartier Island in 2000.

Ndao Island

Ndao is one of the southernmost islands of the Indonesian archipelago. It is part of Lesser Sunda Islands and is located west of the island of Rote Island, 500 km from the coast Australia and 170 km from the Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

Administratively, Ndao forms, together with Rote and neighboring islands, the Rote Ndao Regency after the regency was separated from Kupang province.

Outline of Oceania

The following outline is provided as an overview and topical guide to Oceania.

Oceania is a geographical, and geopolitical, region consisting of numerous lands—mostly islands in the Pacific Ocean and vicinity. The term is also sometimes used to denote a continent comprising Australia and proximate Pacific islands.The boundaries of Oceania are defined in a number of ways. Most definitions include parts of Australasia such as Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea, and parts of Maritime Southeast Asia. Ethnologically, the islands of Oceania are divided into the subregions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

Pamana Island

Pamana Island (Dana, Dona, Ndana) is a small island off Rote Island in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province of Lesser Sunda Islands, and the southernmost point of Asia. It lies exactly on latitude 11°S. Administratively this island is part of Rote Ndao Regency. It borders the Ashmore and Cartier Islands to the south.

Solar eclipse of December 25, 1954

An annular solar eclipse occurred on December 25, 1954, also known as "The christmas 1954 solar eclipse". A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun's, blocking most of the Sun's light and causing the Sun to look like an annulus (ring). An annular eclipse appears as a partial eclipse over a region of the Earth thousands of kilometres wide. Annularity was visible from the southwestern tip of South West Africa (today's Namibia), South Africa, Ashmore and Cartier Islands except Cartier Island, Indonesia and Portuguese Timor (today's East Timor).

Territorial evolution of Australia

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed on 1 January 1901, when the six British colonies of Australia were merged to form a single commonwealth within the British Empire. Apart from Western Australia, all of the founding area of the country was originally part of the Colony of New South Wales, founded in 1787. Since federation, the only changes to the borders have been the creation, acquisition, or independence of territories. Two countries became independent from Australia in the mid-20th century: Nauru, originally mandated to the country by the League of Nations; and Papua New Guinea, a combination of an earlier British protectorate and a League of Nations mandate.

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