Coral Sea Islands

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Map of the Coral Sea Islands

The Coral Sea Islands Territory includes a grouping of small tropical islands and reefs in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland, around Template:Coor d. There are about 30 separate reefs and atolls, 12 of them wholly submerged or drying only during low tide, and 18 others with a total of about 51 islets and cays (18 alone on the atoll Lihou Reef and Cays), some of which are vegetated. The atolls exhibit a wide range of size, from a few kilometers in diameter to perhaps the second largest atoll in the world by total area (including lagoon): Lihou Reef, with a lagoon size of 100 by 30 km and an area of 2,500 km, which compares to a combined land area of the 18 individual islets of only 0.91 km. The islands are all very low.

The atolls are scattered over a sea area of about 1 million km, with the Willis Islets (Willis Group) the most important, but less than three square kilometers of land and no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorage. They are important nesting areas for birds and turtles, but their natural resources are negligible.

The territory was created in 1969 by the Coral Sea Islands Act (before, the area was considered part of Queensland) and extended in 1997 to include Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef nearly 800 km further South, already in the Tasman Sea. The two latter reefs are indeed much closer to Lord Howe Island, New South Wales (about 150 km) than to the southernmost island of the rest of the territory, Cato Island (nearly 800 km). The islands, cays and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are not part of the territory, they belong to Queensland. The outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef is the boundary between Queensland and the Coral Sea Islands Territory.

The territory is a possession of Australia, administered from Canberra by the Australian Department of the Environment, which has control over the activities of visitors. Defense is the responsibility of Australia, and the territory is visited regularly by the Royal Australian Navy. Australia maintains automatic weather stations on many of the isles and reefs, and claims a 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive fishing zone. There is no economic activity, no permanent population, only a staff of three or four people to run the meteorological station on Willis Island (South Islet), established in 1921. The territory's data code is CR.

Automatic, unmanned weather stations are located on following reefs or atolls:

  • Bougainville Reef
  • Cato Island
  • Flinders Reef (Flinders Coral Cay)
  • Frederick Reef
  • Holmes Reef
  • Lihou Reef (Turtle Islet)
  • Marion Reef
  • Moore Reef

Lighthouses are located on following reefs or islands:

  • Bougainville Reef
  • East Diamond Islet
  • Frederick Reefs
  • Lihou Reef
  • Saumarez Reef


Most of the atolls fall into two groups, with Mellish Reef to the East, and Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef to the South being grouped separately:

Northwestern Group

  1. Osprey Reef (submerged atoll roughly oval in shape, measuring 25 by 12 km, covering around 195 km, with lagoon up to 30 m deep)
  2. Shark Reef (small elongated submerged reef 15 km South of Osprey Reef)
  3. Bougainville Reef (small submerged atoll, 2.5 by 4 km, area 8 km with lagoon, exposed at low tide)
  4. East Holmes Reef (submerged atoll, about 14 by 10 km, area 125 km with lagoon)
  5. West Holmes Reef (submerged atoll 6 km East of East Holmes Reef, about 18 by 7 km, area 125 km with lagoon that is open on the West side, two small cays)
  6. Flora Reef (small submerged atoll, 5 by 4 km, about 12 km)
  7. Diane Bank (sunken atoll, depths of less than 10 m over an area of 65 by 25 km, or 1300 km, along the northern edge 3 m deep, with Sand Cay in the Northwest, 3 m high)
  8. North Moore Reef (small submerged atoll, 4 by 3 km, area 8 km including lagoon that is open on the Northwest side)
  9. South Moore Reef (small submerged reef 5 km South of North Moore Reef)
  10. Willis Islets (sunken atoll, bank 45 by 19 km, bank area more than 500 km, 3 islets on the Northwestern side: North Cay, Mid Islet almost 8 m high, South Islet or Willis Island 10 m high)
  11. Magdelaine Cays & Coringa Islets (one large, partially sunken atoll structure, almost 90 by 30 km, bank area about 1500 km, 2 islets of the Magdelaine Cays in the North: North West Islet (area approximately 0.2 km) and South East Cay (area 0.37 km); 2 islets of the Coringa Islets 50 to 60 km further Southwest: Southwest Islet or Coringa Islet (area 0.173 km), and Chilcott Islet (area 0.163 km))
  12. Herald Cays, Northeast Cay (encircled by a reef of 3 by 3 km, total area 6 km, land area 0.34 km)
  13. Herald Cays, Southwest Cay (4 km Southwest of Northeast Cay, encircled by a reef of 2 by 2 km, total area 3 km, land area 0.188 km)
  14. Lihou Reef and Cays (largest atoll in the coral sea, with a size of 2500 km, land area 0.91 km)
  15. Diamond Islets & Tregosse Reefs (large, partially sunken atoll, 100 by 52 km, area of the bank over 3000 km, with 4 islets and 2 small submerged reefs in the Northeast and Southeast: West Diamond Islet, Central Diamond Islet, East Diamond Islet on the Northeastern rim of the former atoll, and South Diamond Islet, East Tregosse Reef and West Tregosse Reef on the Southern rim)
  16. North Flinders Reef (large atoll, 34 by 23 km, area 600 km, with 2 islets, Flinders Cay being the larger one with a length of 200 m and a height of 3 m)
  17. South Flinders Reef (atoll, 15 by 5 km, 60 km)
  18. Herald's Surprise (small submerged reef North of Flinders Reefs, 3 by 2 km)
  19. Dart Reef (small submerged reef Northwest of Flinders Reefs, 3 by 3 km, area 6 km including small lagoon that is open to the North)
  20. Malay Reef (small submerged reef)
  21. Abington Reef (submerged reef, 4 by 2.5 km, area 7 km)
  22. Marion Reef (large circular atoll formation that is comprised of three main units located on the Eastern side: Marion, Long and Wansfell; and a number of smaller reefs on the west. The formation sits atop a submarine feature known as the Marion Plateau which is separated from the larger Coral Sea Plateau to the north by the Townsville Trough. Three small sand cays are located on the eastern side of Marion Reef: Paget Cay, on Long Reef, Carola Cay, south of Long Reef, and Brodie Cay, on Wansfell Reef.

The atolls of the Northwestern Group, except Osprey Reef and Shark Reef in the North, and Marion Reef in the South, are located on the Coral Sea Plateau (Queensland Plateau), a contiguous area of depths less than 1000 m.

Flinders Reefs (North and South), Herald's Surprise and Dart Reef form a cluster of reefs of 66 by 26 km.

Magdelaine Cays, Coringa Islets and Herald Cays are part of the 8856 km Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve, created on August 16, 1982 and located around 400 km east of Cairns and 220 to 320 km from the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. The 6 islets of the nature reserve have areas from 0.16 to 0.37 km, for a total of 1.24 km.

Lihou Reef was declared a Nature Reserve on August 16, 1982, with an area of 8440 km.

The Nature Reserves werde created to protect wildlife in the respective areas of the territory.

Mellish Reef

  1. Mellish Reef, being about 300 km to the East of the Northwestern Group, thus the most distant to the Australian continent of all the reefs and atolls of the Coral Sea Islands Territory, is not considered to be part of any group. It has the outline of a boomerang-shaped platform around 10 km in length and 3 km across, area 25 km. The surrounding reefs, which enclose a narrow lagoon, are completely submerged at high tide. Near the centre of the lagoon is the only permanent land of the reef Heralds-Beacon Islet. The island is a small cay measuring 600 m by 120 m, area 57,000 m², only rising a few meters above the high water mark.

Southeasterly Group

  1. Frederick Reefs: The reefs form a semi-enclosed lagoon, known as Anchorage Sound, with an opening on the North side. The complex measures about 10 by 4 km, with an area of 30 km. On the southern side of the reef lies Observatory Cay, the only permanently dry land, although there are a few of others cays that can be awash at high tide.
  2. Kenn Reef, submerged atoll of about 15 by 8 km, area 40 km, islet Observatory Cay in the Southeast, 2 m high
  3. Saumarez Reefs, southernmost reefs to be located on the Coral Sea Shelf; three main reefs and numerous smaller reefs that form a large crescent-shaped formation open to the northwest, about 27 by 14 km, area less than 300 km. There are two sand cays: North East Cay and South West Cay.
  4. Wreck Reefs: atoll 25 by 5 km, area 75 km, open on the North. Islets found on the reefs include Bird Islet, West Islet and Porpoise Cay.
  5. Cato Reef: Cato bank 21 by 13 km, area 200 km of dephts less than 17 m; Cato Reef encircles an area of 3.3 by 1.8 km, area 5 km including lagoon; Cato Island, in the West of the lagoon, 650 by 300 m, area 1.5 km², 6 m high. Close to the Southeast corner of Cato bank is Hutchison Rock, with 1 m depth over it.

Extreme South

Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, together with reefs around Lord Howe Island (New South Wales) 150 km to the south, are regarded as the southernmost coral reefs in the world. Their location, where tropical and temperate ocean currents meet, contributes to an unusually diverse assemblage of marine species. These mostly submerged atolls which dry only during low tide were added to the territory only in 1989. They are located on the Lord Howard Rise in the Tasman Sea which joins the Coral Sea in the South. Already on December 23, 1987, they were protected as Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve, which has an area of 1880 km.

  1. Middleton Reef, atoll about 8.9 by 6.3 km, area 37 km including lagoon, one islet: Elizabeth island (Elizabeth cay), no vegetation, 600 meters by 400 meters (area 0.2 km2), highest point close to the Northern end 1.5 meters. At low tides much of the reef flat is exposed.
  2. Elizabeth Reef, atoll about 8.2 by 5.5 km, area 51 km including lagoon, one islet: The Sound, 100 by 70 meters (area 0.5 ha), highest point 0.8 meters. At low tides much of the reef flat is exposed.

Overview of Islets and Cays

ComplexTypeNumber of Islets and Cays
West Holmes Reefatoll2
Diane Bankmostly sunken atoll1
Willis Grouppartially sunken atoll3
Magdelaine Cays & Coringa Isletspartially sunken atoll4
Herald Cays (North)reef1
Herald Cays (South)reef1
Lihou Reef and Caysatoll18
Diamond Islands & Tregosse Reefspartially sunken atoll4
Flinders Reefs (North)atoll2
Marion Reefatoll4
Mellish Reefatoll1
Frederick Reefsatoll1
Kenn Reefatoll1
Saumarez Reefatoll2
Wreck Reefatoll3
Cato Reefatoll1
Middleton Reefatoll1
Elizabeth Reefatoll1


External links

es:Islas de Mar del Coral he:טריטוריית איי ים האלמוגים it:Isole del Mar dei Coralli nl:Koraalzee-eilanden ja:珊瑚海諸島 pl:Wyspy Morza Koralowego fi:Korallimeren saarten territorio


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