This view of the Queensland coast of northeast Australia taken by the Aqua satellite vividly shows the many offshore reefs that together form the Great Barrier Reef. The various white specks in the deeper blue waters of the Coral Sea to the east are some of the reefs, cays, and islets that make up the Coral Sea Islands. Image courtesy of NASA.
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The widely scattered islands were first charted in 1803, but they were too small to host any permanent human habitation. The 1870s and 1880s, saw attempts at guano mining, but these were soon abandoned. The islands became an Australian territory in 1969 and its boundaries were extended in 1997. A small meteorological staff has operated on the Willis Islets since 1921, and several other islands host unmanned weather stations, beacons, and lighthouses. Much of the territory lies within marine national nature reserves.


Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Oceania, islands in the Coral Sea, northeast of Australia

Geographic coordinates

18 00 S, 152 00 E


total: 3 sq km less than

land: 3 sq km less than

water: 0 sq km

note: includes numerous small islands and reefs scattered over a sea area of about 780,000 sq km (300,000 sq mi) with the Willis Islets the most important

country comparison to the world: 252

Area - comparative

about four times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


3,095 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 3 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm




sand and coral reefs and islands (cays)


highest point: unnamed location on Cato Island 9 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Natural hazards

occasional tropical cyclones

Geography - note

important nesting area for birds and turtles

People and Society


no indigenous inhabitants (July 2021 est.)

note: there is a staff of four at the meteorological station on Willis Island

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-24 years: NA

25-54 years: NA

55-64 years: NA

65 years and over: NA

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Death rate

NA (2021 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA


Environment - current issues

no permanent freshwater resources; damaging activities include coral mining, destructive fishing practices (overfishing, blast fishing)



Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: Coral Sea Islands Territory

conventional short form: Coral Sea Islands

etymology: self-descriptive name to reflect the islands' position in the Coral Sea off the northeastern coast of Australia

Dependency status

territory of Australia; administered from Canberra by the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport

Legal system

the common law legal system of Australia applies where applicable


see Australia

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of Australia)

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (territory of Australia)

Flag description

the flag of Australia is used


Economic overview

no economic activity


Communications - note

automatic weather stations on many of the isles and reefs relay data to the mainland


Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of Australia

Transnational Issues