Cocos (Keeling) Islands


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The Cocos (Keeling) Islands Territory at 96°50'E and 12°10'S is Australia's most westerly tropical possession. The Territory is a series of 27 coral islands formed into two large coral atolls situated in the Indian Ocean about 2770 kilometres northwest of Perth. The islands have a total land area of 14 square kilometres and support a population of 572 (ABS 2006), mainly on Home Island and West Island.

Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands Territory. Copyright Geoscience Australia.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands
© Geoscience Australia

Australia's Cocos (Keeling) Islands Territory. Copyright Geoscience Australia.

Australia's remote territories
in the Indian Ocean.
© Geoscience Australia

The territory is one of the remaining pristine tropical island groups in the Indian Ocean region with abundant wildlife, particularly sea birds and supports an internationally significant seabird rookery. The Islands also have land crabs, turtles, a range of flora and a marine environment with a wide variety of corals, fish, molluscs, crustaceans and other species. The northern atoll consists of North Keeling Island and the marine area extending 1.5 kilometres around the Island forms Australia's most remote Commonwealth National Park, the Pulu Keeling National Park.

The islands where discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609 but were not inhabited until 1826 when Alexander Hare settled on the main atoll. In 1827, a former employee of Hare, John Clunies-Ross, settled on Home Island and brought Malays in to harvest coconut crops. Britain annexed the islands in 1857 and 29 years later they were given to the Clunies-Ross family.

In 1978 the islands were bought from the family by the Australian Government and in 1984 the islanders voted to retain their link with Australia. Today they are administered by Australia's Attorney-General's Department.

Topic contact: Last updated: November 18, 2010