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Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Photos of Ashmore and Cartier Islands



These uninhabited islands came under Australian authority in 1931; formal administration began two years later. Ashmore Reef supports a rich and diverse avian and marine habitat; in 1983, it became a National Nature Reserve. Cartier Island, a former bombing range, became a marine reserve in 2000.

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



Southeastern Asia, islands in the Indian Ocean, midway between northwestern Australia and Timor island; Ashmore Reef is 840 km west of Darwin and 610 km north of Broome; Cartier Islet is 70 km east of Ashmore Reef

Geographic coordinates

12 25 S, 123 20 E

note - Ashmore Reef - 12 14 S, 123 05 E; Cartier Islet - 12 32 S, 123 32 E

Map references

Southeast Asia


total: 5 sq km

land: 5 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: includes Ashmore Reef (West, Middle, and East Islets) and Cartier Island

country comparison to the world: 249

Area - comparative

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

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


74.1 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm




low with sand and coral


highest point: Cartier Island 5 m

lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

Natural hazards

surrounded by shoals and reefs that can pose maritime hazards

Geography - note

Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve established in August 1983; Cartier Island Marine Reserve established in 2000

People and Society


no indigenous inhabitants (July 2021 est.)

note: Indonesian fishermen are allowed access to the lagoon and fresh water at Ashmore Reef's West Island; access to East and Middle Islands is by permit only


Environment - current issues

illegal killing of protected wildlife by traditional Indonesian fisherman, as well as fishing by non-traditional Indonesian vessels, are ongoing problems; sea level rise, changes in sea temperature, and ocean acidification are concerns; marine debris



Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands

conventional short form: Ashmore and Cartier Islands

etymology: named after British Captain Samuel ASHMORE, who first sighted his namesake island in 1811, and after the ship Cartier, from which the second island was discovered in 1800

Dependency status

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

Legal system

the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia and the laws of the Northern Territory of Australia, where applicable, apply


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


Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of Australia; periodic visits by the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Australia has closed parts of the Ashmore and Cartier reserve to Indonesian traditional fishing; Indonesian groups challenge Australia's claim to Ashmore Reef