Coral Sea Islands

Last updated:7 June 2023

The Coral Sea Islands Territory is made up of many small islands spread over an extensive geographic area extending east and south from the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and including Heralds Beacon Island, Osprey Reef, the Willis Group and 15 other reef/island groups. However, the coral and sand islands are quite small and the total area of all the islands making up Australia's Coral Sea Islands Territory is only seven square kilometres.

The Coral Sea Islands, which are administered by the Territories section of the Attorney-General's Department, became a Territory of the Commonwealth in 1969 through the Coral Sea Islands Act .

Discovered in 1803, the islands were briefly exploited for guano in the 1870s and 1880s but subsequently were abandoned. During the 19th century many ships were wrecked in the area as a result of constantly shifting sand cays and many of the reefs and islands have been named after the ships which foundered. They are still uninhabited but are home to a large population of sea birds.

Two species of sea turtle nest in the area and at least 24 bird species have been recorded. A Migratory Birds Ordinance is in force and gives effect to the Australia-Japan and Australia-China agreements on endangered and migratory birds.

In 1982, the Lihou Reef Nature Reserve and Coringa-Herald Nature Reserve were declared by the Commonwealth Government to protect the wildlife in that part of the Territory. In 1987, the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve was declared and now all wildlife in the Territory is legally protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulations.

Tropical cyclones sweep over the islands occasionally from around November to April. As a consequence there are a number of unmanned weather stations, beacons and a lighthouse located on several islands and reefs which are monitored by the Bureau of Meteorology.