Photos of Christmas Island

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Although Europeans sighted Christmas Island in 1615, it was named for the day of its rediscovery in 1643. Steep cliffs and dense jungle hampered attempts to explore the island over the next two centuries. The discovery of phosphate on the island in 1887 led to the UK annexing it the following year. In 1898, 200 Chinese indentured servants were brought in 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 company mining the phosphate, and in 1958, the UK transferred sovereignty from Singapore to Australia in exchange for $20 million to compensate 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 because they were on Australian territory. In 2001, Australia declared Christmas Island to be outside the Australian migration zone and built an immigration detention center on the island. Completed in 2008, the controversial detention center was closed in 2018 but then reopened in 2019. In 2020, the center served as a coronavirus quarantine facility for Australian citizens evacuated from China.

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



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

Geographic coordinates

10 30 S, 105 40 E

Map references

Southeast Asia


total: 135 sq km

land: 135 sq km

water: 0 sq km

comparison ranking: total 222

Area - comparative

about three-quarters the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


138.9 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 12 nm

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm


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


steep cliffs along coast rise abruptly to central plateau


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


total: 1,692

male: 1,007

female: 685 (2021 est.)

comparison rankings: female 228; male 228; total 232


noun: Christmas Islander(s)

adjective: Christmas Island

Ethnic groups

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

note: no indigenous population


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


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: 16.6%

15-64 years: 70.4%

65 years and over: 13% (2021)

Median age

total: 38 years (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 78

Population growth rate

1.11% (2014 est.)

comparison ranking: 84

Population distribution

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


Environment - current issues

loss of rainforest; impact of phosphate mining


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.)


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


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)


none (territory of Australia)

National holiday

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


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


see Australia


18 years of age

Executive branch

chief of state: King CHARLES III (since 8 September 2022); represented by Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia General David HURLEY (since 1 July 2019)

head of government: Administrator Ms. Farzian ZAINAL (since 11 May 2023)

cabinet: NA

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)

elections: held every 2 years with half the members standing for election; last held in October 2023 (next to be held in October 2025)

election results: percent of vote - NA; seats by party - independent 9; composition as of January 2024 - men 8, women 1, percentage women 13%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): 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 King" serves as the royal anthem (see Australia)


Economic overview

high-income Australian territorial economy; development through government services and phosphate mining; operates Australia’s Immigration Detention Centre; increasing tourism and government investments; sustained environmental protections


tourism, phosphate extraction (near depletion)


revenues: NA

expenditures: NA

Fiscal year

1 July - 30 June

Exports - partners

NZ 25%, Indonesia 18%, Singapore 12%, Australia 9%, Ireland 8% (2022)

note: top five export partners based on percentage share of exports

Exports - commodities

phosphates, fertilizers, chemical analysis instruments, electrical transformers, measuring instruments (2022)

note: top five export commodities based on value in dollars

Imports - partners

Australia 93%, US 3%, Malaysia 2%, Singapore 1%, Fiji 0% (2022)

note: top five import partners based on percentage share of imports

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, cars, iron structures, air conditioners, paintings (2022)

note: top five import commodities based on value in dollars

Exchange rates

Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
1.311 (2017 est.)
1.3442 (2016 est.)
1.3442 (2015)
1.3291 (2014 est.)
1.1094 (2013 est.)


Telecommunication systems

general assessment: internet access on Christmas Island is provided by satellite; improvements through the Regional Connectivity Program to the macro and small cell mobile sites will provide new and improved mobile, voice and data connectivity for residents and visitors; the upgrade will also support local businesses and community facilities, enabling increased residential access to essential services such as telehealth and education (2022)

domestic: improvements to Christmas Island include an upgrade to the macro cell base stations and deploy a new macro cell base station at the airport (2022)

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: 1,139 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 78.6% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 229



1 (2024)

comparison ranking: 229


total: 18 km (2017)

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

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

comparison ranking: total 135


total: 142 km

paved: 32 km

unpaved: 110 km (2011)

comparison ranking: total 212


total ports: 1 (2024)

large: 0

medium: 1

small: 0

very small: 0

ports with oil terminals: 0

key ports: Flying Fish Cove

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of Australia