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Ashmore and Cartier Islands

The Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands are two groups of small low-lying uninhabited tropical islands in the Indian Ocean situated on the edge of the continental shelf north-west of Australia and south of the Indonesianmarker island of Rotimarker at .


Ashmore Reef in satellite-image (NASA)
The territory includes Ashmore Reef (West, Middle, and Eastmarker Islets) and Cartier Islandmarker (70 km east) with, a total area of 199.45 km² within the reefs and including the lagoons, and 114,400 m² of dry land. While they have a total of 74.1 km of shoreline, measured along the outer edge of the reef, there are no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorage. Nearby Hibernia Reef, 42 km Northeast of Ashmore Reef, is not part of the territory, but belongs to Western Australiamarker . It has no permanently dry land area, although large parts of the reef become exposed during low tide.

  • Ashmore Reef 155.40 km² area within reef (including lagoon)
    • West Islet, 51,200 m² land area;
    • Middle Islet, 21,200 m² land area;
    • East Islet, 25,000 m² land area;
  • Cartier Reef (44.03 km² area within reef (including lagoon)
    • Cartier Island, 17,000 m² land area;

There is an automatic weather station on West Islet.


The territory is administered from Canberramarker by the Attorney-General's Department (before 29 November 2007 administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). The FIPS-10 date code is AT; the territory is bundled along with Australia in ISO 3166. Defence is the responsibility of Australia, with periodic visits by the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force. The islands are visited by seasonal caretaker.

Ashmore Reef is called Pulau Pasir by Indonesians, and considered part of Rote Ndao Regency of East Nusa Tenggara province.In the Rote Islandmarker language, it is called Nusa Solokaek. Both names have the meaning Sand Island.

Ecology and environment

The Ashmore Reef Marine National Nature Reserve was established in August 1983. It is of significant biodiversity value as it is in the flow of the Indonesian throughflow current from the Pacific Ocean through the Indonesian Archipelago to the Indian Ocean. It is also in a surface current west from the Arafura Seamarker and Timor Seamarker. There are 14 distinct species of sea snake in the area, more than in any other area. There is also an unusually high level of species diversity of coral, mollusks, and fish. A memorandum of understanding between the Australian and Indonesian governments allows Indonesian fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds within the region, subject to limits.

Cartier Island Marine Reserve includes the entire sand cay of Cartier Island, the reef surrounding it, the ocean for a 7.2 km radius around the island, and 1000 m below the seafloor. It was proclaimed in 2000.

Economy and migration

There is no economic activity in the Territory. As Ashmore Reef is the closest point of Australian territory to Indonesia, it was a popular target for people smugglers transporting asylum seekers to Australia. Once they had landed on Ashmore, asylum seekers could claim to have entered Australian territory and request to be processed as refugees. The use of Ashmore for this purpose created great notoriety during late 2001, when refugee arrivals became a major political issue in Australia. As Australia was not the country of first asylum for these "boat people", the Australian Government did not consider it had a responsibility to accept them.

A number of things were done to discourage the practice 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 Ashmore 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 after failed attempts by the Royal Australian Navy to turn them back to Indonesia in October 2001.

See also


  2. Ashmore Reef, Ashmore and Cartier Islands (external territory of Australia)
  3. The Settlement of Papela
  4. Inside Indonesia Anita Roberts "Don't let them drown" Inside Indonesia Apr-Jun 2001, vol. 64

External links

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