Ashmore and Cartier Islands

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Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Ashmore and Cartier Islands on the globe (Southeast Asia centered) (small islands magnified).svg
Location of the Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Location Indian Ocean
Population0 (1 January 2011)
Ashmore and Cartier Islands AshmoreandCartierIslands.png
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]

States and territories of Australia first-level subdivision of Australia

The states and territories are the first-level administrative divisions of the Commonwealth of Australia. They are the second level of government in Australia, located between the federal and local government tiers.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Reef A bar of rock, sand, coral or similar material, lying beneath the surface of water

A reef is a bar of rock, sand, coral or similar material, lying beneath the surface of water. Many reefs result from abiotic processes, but the best known reefs are the coral reefs of tropical waters developed through biotic processes dominated by corals and coralline algae.


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


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 583 km2 (225.1 sq mi) and Cartier Reef 167 km2 (64 sq mi), both measurements extending to the limits of the reefs. [5]

East Island (Ashmore and Cartier Islands) island in Ashmore Reef in the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, an external territory of Australia

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′S123°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.

Lagoon A shallow body of water separated from a larger body of water by barrier islands or reefs

A lagoon is a shallow body of water separated from a larger body of water by barrier islands or reefs. Lagoons are commonly divided into coastal lagoons and atoll lagoons. They have also been identified as occurring on mixed-sand and gravel coastlines. There is an overlap between bodies of water classified as coastal lagoons and bodies of water classified as estuaries. Lagoons are common coastal features around many parts of the world.

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]

Hectare metric unit of area

The hectare is an SI accepted metric system unit of area equal to a square with 100-metre sides, or 10,000 m2, and is primarily used in the measurement of land. There are 100 hectares in one square kilometre. An acre is about 0.405 hectare and one hectare contains about 2.47 acres.


Cartier Island was discovered by Captain Nash in 1800, and named after his ship Cartier. Ashmore Island was discovered by Captain Samuel Ashmore in 1811 from his ship HMS Hibernia, and named after him. Ashmore Island was annexed by the United Kingdom in 1878, as was Cartier Island in 1909. [9]

HMS <i>Hibernia</i> (1804)

HMS Hibernia was a 110-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was launched at Plymouth dockyard on 17 November 1804, and was the only ship built to her draught, designed by Sir John Henslow.

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] [10]

Governor of Western Australia vice-regal representative of the Australian monarch in Western Australia

The Governor of Western Australia is the representative in Western Australia of the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II. As with the other governors of the Australian states, the Governor of Western Australia performs important constitutional, ceremonial and community functions, including:

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 . [11]

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. [12]

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


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. [13]

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. [14] It has no permanently dry land area, although large parts of the reef become exposed during low tide.

Environment and protection

Cartier Island and surrounding reef (NASA satellite image) Cartier Island.png
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. [15] 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. [16]

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. [17] 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

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Cartier Island island in the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, an external territory of Australia

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. It is located at 12°31′S123°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.

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The Cartier Island Marine Park is an Australian marine park that covers the Cartier Island and reef surrounds, about 610 km (380 mi) north of Broome, Western Australia. The marine park covers an area of 172 km2 (66 sq mi) and is assigned IUCN category Ia. It is one of the 13 parks managed under the North-west Marine Parks Network.

The Ashmore Reef Marine Park is an Australian marine park that covers the Ashmore Reef, which is located about 630 km (390 mi) north of Broome and 110 km (68 mi) south of the Indonesian island of Rote. The marine park covers an area of 583 km2 (225 sq mi) and is assigned IUCN category Ia. It is one of 13 parks managed under the North-west Marine Parks Network.



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  11. Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
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  14. States of Australia Retrieved 2011-06-23
  15. "Australian Customs Vessel Ashmore Guardian" (PDF). Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
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  17. Anita Roberts "Don't let them drown" Inside Indonesia Apr–Jun 2001, vol. 64

Coordinates: 12°15′30″S123°02′30″E / 12.25833°S 123.04167°E / -12.25833; 123.04167