Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Introduction 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, is now a marine reserve.
Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, islands in the Indian Ocean, midway between northwestern Australia and Timor island
Geographic coordinates: 12 14 S, 123 05 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 5 sq km
land: 5 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes Ashmore Reef (West, Middle, and East Islets) and Cartier Island
Area - comparative: about eight times the size of The Mall in Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 74.1 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 12 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: tropical
Terrain: low with sand and coral
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location 3 m
Natural resources: fish
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (all grass and sand) (2005)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: surrounded by shoals and reefs that can pose maritime hazards
Environment - current issues: NA
Geography - note: Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve established in August 1983
Ecology and environment

The Ashmore Reef Marine National Nature Reserve was established in August 1983. It is of significant biodiversity value as it is in the flow of the Indonesian throughflow current from the Pacific Ocean through the Indonesian Archipelago to the Indian Ocean. It is also in a surface current west from the Arafura Sea and Timor Sea. There are 14 distinct species of sea snake in the area, more than in any other area. There is also an unusually high level of species diversity of coral, mollusks, and fish. A memorandum of understanding between the Australian and Indonesian governments allows Indonesian fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds within the region, subject to limits.

Cartier Island Marine Reserve includes the entire sand cay of Cartier Island, the reef surrounding it, the ocean for a 7.2 km radius around the island, and 1000 m below the seafloor. It was proclaimed in 2000.

People Population: no indigenous inhabitants
note: Indonesian fishermen are allowed access to the lagoon and fresh water at Ashmore Reef's West Island
People - note: the landing of illegal immigrants from Indonesia's Rote Island has become an ongoing problem

Country name: conventional long form: Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands
conventional short form: Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Dependency status: territory of Australia; administered by the Australian Attorney-General's Department
Legal system: the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia and the laws of the Northern Territory of Australia, where applicable, apply
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (territory of Australia)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (territory of Australia)
Flag description: the flag of Australia is used

The territory is administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department[1] (before November 29, 2007[2] administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). The FIPS-10 date code is AT; the territory is bundled along with Australia in ISO 3166. Defence is the responsibility of Australia, with periodic visits by the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force. The islands are visited by seasonal caretakers.

Economy Economy - overview: no economic activity
Economy and migration

As Ashmore Reef is the closest point of Australian territory to Indonesia, it was a popular target for people smugglers transporting asylum seekers to Australia.[3] Once they had landed on Ashmore, asylum seekers could claim to have entered Australian territory and request to be processed as refugees. The use of Ashmore for this purpose created great notoriety during late 2001, when refugee arrivals became a major political issue in Australia. As Australia was not the country of first asylum for these "boat people", the Australian Government did not consider it had a responsibility to accept them.

A number of things were done to discourage the practice such as attempting to have the people smugglers arrested in Indonesia; the so-called Pacific Solution of processing them in third countries; the boarding and forced turnaround of the boats by Australian military forces, and finally excising Ashmore and many other small islands from the Australian migration zone. Two boatloads of asylum seekers were each detained for several days in the lagoon at Ashmore after failed attempts by the Royal Australian Navy to turn them back to Indonesia in October 2001.

Transportation Ports and terminals: none; offshore anchorage only
Military Military - note: defense is the responsibility of Australia; periodic visits by the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Indonesian groups challenge Australia's claim to these islands; Australia closed parts of the Ashmore and Cartier Reserve to Indonesian traditional fishing and placed restrictions on certain catches