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Coral Sea Islands facts for kids

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Coral Sea Islands
A map of the islands

The Coral Sea Islands Territory includes a group of small and mostly uninhabited tropical islands and reefs in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland, Australia. The only inhabited island is Willis Island. The territory covers 780,000 km², extending east and south from the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, and including Heralds Beacon Island, Osprey Reef, the Willis Group, and fifteen other reef/island groups.


Guano (from Quechua "wani" via Spanish) is the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats. As a manure, guano is a highly effective fertilizer due to its exceptionally high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium: nutrients essential for plant growth

The Coral Sea Islands were first charted in 1803; in the 1870 and 1880s the islands were mined for guano but the absence of a permanent supply of fresh water prevented long-term habitation. 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 Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs nearly 800 km further South, already in the Tasman Sea.

The two latter reefs are 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. The islands, cays and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are not part of the territory, belonging to Queensland instead. 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 Territories section of the Department of Transport and Regional Services. Defence 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, and only a staff of three or four people to run the meteorological station on Willis Island (South Islet), established in 1921.


Map of the Coral Sea Islands Territory

There are about 30 separate reefs and atolls, twelve being 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 kilometres 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 km². The islands are all very low.

The Willis Islets are important nesting areas for birds and turtles, but their natural resources are negligible. They comprise less than three square kilometres of land. There is no port or harbour, only offshore anchorage.

Lihou Reef was declared a Nature Reserve on August 16, 1982, with an area of 8440 km².

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

Man-made objects

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
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