Photos of Christmas Island

Introduction

Background

Although Europeans sighted the island as early as 1615, it was only named in 1643 by English Captain William MYNORS for the day of its rediscovery. Another English ship sailed by the island in 1688 and found it uninhabited. Attempts to explore the island over the next two centuries were hampered by steep cliffs and dense jungle. Phosphate discovery on the island in 1887, lead to the UK annexing it the following year. In 1898, the Christmas Island Phosphate Company brought in 200 Chinese indentured servants to work the mines, along with Malays, Sikhs, and a small number of Europeans. The UK administered Christmas Island from Singapore.

Japan invaded the island in 1942, but islanders sabotaged Japanese mining operations, making the mines relatively unproductive. After World War II, Australia and New Zealand bought the Christmas Island Phosphate Company, and in 1958, the UK transferred sovereignty from Singapore to Australia in exchange for $20 million for the loss of future phosphate income. In 1980, Australia set up the Christmas Island National Park and expanded its boundaries throughout the 1980s until it covered more than 60% of the island’s territory. The phosphate mine was closed in 1987 because of environmental concerns and Australia has rejected several efforts to reopen it.

In the 1980s, boats of asylum seekers started landing on Christmas Island and the migrants claimed refugee status since they were on Australian territory. In 2001, Australia declared Christmas Island outside the Australian migration zone and built an immigration detention center on the island. Completed in 2008, the controversial detention center was officially closed in 2018, although plans to reopen it were announced in early 2019.

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

Geography

Location

Southeastern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia

Geographic coordinates

10 30 S, 105 40 E

Map references

Southeast Asia

Area

total: 135 sq km

land: 135 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 221

Area - comparative

about three-quarters the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

138.9 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 12 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical with a wet season (December to April) and dry season; heat and humidity moderated by trade winds

Terrain

steep cliffs along coast rise abruptly to central plateau

Elevation

highest point: Murray Hill 361 m

lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

phosphate, beaches

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Population distribution

majority of the population lives on the northern tip of the island

Natural hazards

the narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard

Geography - note

located along major sea lanes of the Indian Ocean

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Christmas Islander(s)

adjective: Christmas Island

Ethnic groups

Chinese 70%, European 20%, Malay 10% (2001)

note: no indigenous population

Languages

English (official) 27.6%, Mandarin 17.2%, Malay 17.1%, Cantonese 3.9%, Min Nan 1.6%, Tagalog 1%, other 4.5%, unspecified 27.1% (2016 est.)

note: data represent language spoken at home

Religions

Muslim 19.4%, Buddhist 18.3%, Roman Catholic 8.8%, Protestant 6.5% (includes Anglican 3.6%, Uniting Church 1.2%, other 1.7%), other Christian 3.3%, other 0.6%, none 15.3%, unspecified 27.7% (2016 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 12.79% (male 147/female 135) (2017 est.)

15-24 years: 12.2% (male 202/female 67) (2017 est.)

25-54 years: 57.91% (male 955/female 322) (2017 est.)

55-64 years: 11.66% (male 172/female 85) (2017 est.)

65 years and over: 5.44% (male 84/female 36) (2017 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Population distribution

majority of the population lives on the northern tip of the island

Infant mortality rate

total: NA (2018)

male: NA

female: NA

Life expectancy at birth

total population: NA (2017 est.)

male: NA

female: NA

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

Environment

Environment - current issues

loss of rainforest; impact of phosphate mining

Climate

tropical with a wet season (December to April) and dry season; heat and humidity moderated by trade winds

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Territory of Christmas Island

conventional short form: Christmas Island

etymology: named by English Captain William MYNORS for the day of its rediscovery, Christmas Day (25 December 1643); the island had been sighted by Europeans as early as 1615

Government type

non-self-governing overseas territory of Australia

Dependency status

non-self governing territory of Australia; administered from Canberra by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities & Regional Development

Capital

name: The Settlement (Flying Fish Cove)

geographic coordinates: 10 25 S, 105 43 E

time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: self-descriptive name for the main locus of population

Administrative divisions

none (territory of Australia)

Independence

none (territory of Australia)

National holiday

Australia Day (commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet of Australian settlers), 26 January (1788)

Constitution

history: 1 October 1958 (Christmas Island Act 1958)

amendments: amended many times, last in 2020

Legal system

legal system is under the authority of the governor general of Australia and Australian law

Citizenship

see Australia

Suffrage

18 years of age

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia General David HURLEY (since 1 July 2019)

head of government: Administrator Natasha GRIGGS (since 5 October 2017)

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Australian prime minister; administrator appointed by the governor general of Australia for a 2-year term and represents the monarch and Australia

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Christmas Island Shire Council (9 seats; members directly elected by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms with a portion of the membership renewed every 2 years)

elections: held every 2 years with half the members standing for election; last held on 21 October 2017 (next to be held in October 2019)

election results: percent of vote - NA; seats by party - independent 9; composition as of 17 October 2015 - men 7, women 2, percent of women 22.2%

Judicial branch

highest courts: under the terms of the Territorial Law Reform Act 1992, Western Australia provides court services as needed for the island, including the Supreme Court and subordinate courts (District Court, Magistrate Court, Family Court, Children's Court, and Coroners' Court)

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of Australia)

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (territory of Australia)

Flag description

territorial flag; divided diagonally from upper hoist to lower fly; the upper triangle is green with a yellow image of the Golden Bosun Bird superimposed; the lower triangle is blue with the Southern Cross constellation, representing Australia, superimposed; a centered yellow disk displays a green map of the island

note: the flag of Australia is used for official purposes

National symbol(s)

golden bosun bird

National anthem

note: as a territory of Australia, "Advance Australia Fair" remains official as the national anthem, while "God Save the Queen" serves as the royal anthem (see Australia)

Economy

Economic overview

The main economic activities on Christmas Island are the mining of low grade phosphate, limited tourism, the provision of government services and, since 2005, the construction and operation of the Immigration Detention Center. The government sector includes administration, health, education, policing, customs, quarantine, and defense.

Industries

tourism, phosphate extraction (near depletion)

Budget

revenues: NA

expenditures: NA

Fiscal year

1 July - 30 June

Exports - partners

Malaysia 36%, New Zealand 21%, Indonesia 20%, Australia 10% (2019)

Exports - commodities

calcium phosphates, fertilizers, valves, air pumps, industrial printers (2019)

Imports - partners

Australia 80%, United States 7%, Canada 5% (2019)

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, cars, iron structures, aircraft, crustaceans (2019)

Exchange rates

Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar -

1.311 (2017 est.)

1.3442 (2016 est.)

1.3442 (2015)

1.3291 (2014 est.)

1.1094 (2013 est.)

Communications

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: service provided by the Australian network

domestic: local area code - 08; GSM mobile-cellular telephone service is provided by Telstra as part of the Australian network

international: international code - 61 8; ASC submarine cable to Singapore and Australia; satellite earth station - 1 (Intelsat provides telephone and telex service) (2019)

Broadcast media

1 community radio station; satellite broadcasts of several Australian radio and TV stations (2017)

Internet users

total: 790

percent of population: 35.8% (July 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 227

Transportation

Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2019)

Railways

total: 18 km (2017)

standard gauge: 18 km 1.435-m (not in operation) (2017)

note: the 18-km Christmas Island Phosphate Company Railway between Flying Fish Cove and South Point was decommissioned in 1987; some tracks and scrap remain in place

country comparison to the world: 134

Roadways

total: 142 km (2011)

paved: 32 km (2011)

unpaved: 110 km (2011)

country comparison to the world: 210

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Flying Fish Cove

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of Australia

Transnational Issues