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Ashmore and Cartier Islands is an Australian external and federal territory off the northwest coast of Western Australia.

Although Indonesia disputes the islands as being an Indonesian territory under the name Kepulauan Pasir, they are under de facto control of Australia and from a traveller's point of view, it is a part of Australia. This is not a political endorsement of claims by either side in the dispute.


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 reserve. Cartier Island, a former bombing range, is now a marine reserve. This is a difficult travel destination due to restrictions on access and being in the area of illegal boat movements.

Understanding its location is a useful reference point for understanding boats and their passage between Indonesia and Australia. Monitoring of, or patrolling of the location is, in all probability, a part of the Australian government's policies of controlling illegal immigration.


According to Australian literature, Cartier Island was discovered by Captain Nash in 1800, and named after his ship Cartier. Ashmore Island was discovered by Captain Samuel Ashmore in 1811 from his ship HMS Hibernia and named after him. Ashmore Island was annexed by the United Kingdom in 1878, as was Cartier Island in 1909.

A British order-in-council dated 23 July 1931 stated that Ashmore and Cartier Islands would be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia when Australia passed legislation to accept them, and formal administration began two years later. The Commonwealth's resulting Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1933 came into operation on 10 May 1934, when the islands formally became a territory. The act authorised the Governor of Western Australia to make ordinances for the territory. In July 1938 the territory was annexed to the Northern Territory, then also administered by the Commonwealth, whose laws, ordinances and regulations applied to the Northern Territory. When self-government was granted to the Northern Territory on 1 July 1978, administration of Ashmore and Cartier Islands was retained by the Commonwealth.

In 1983, the territory was declared a nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975, now replaced by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Cartier Island, which was a bombing range, became a marine reserve in 2000.

After the islands became a first point of contact with the Australian migration zone, in September 2001, the Australian government excised the Ashmore and Cartier Islands from the Australian migration zone.


The territory comprises Ashmore Reef, which includes West, Middle, and East Islands, and two lagoons, and Cartier Reef, which includes Cartier Island. Ashmore Reef covers approximately 583 km2 (225.1 sq mi) and Cartier Reef 167 km2 (64 sq mi), both measurements extending to the limits of the reefs.

West, Middle, and East Islands have a combined land area variously reported as 54 hectares (130 acres), 93 hectares (230 acres) and 112 hectares (280 acres). Cartier Island has a reported land area of 0.4 hectares (0.99 acres).

Flora and fauna[edit]

The diversity of corals is high, with some 255 species of reef-building corals on Ashmore. This is the highest of any reef area off the Western Australian coast. There is likewise a large number of marine invertebrates. The fish is typical of Asia-Pacific coral reefs, but unusually rich, thanks to the diversity of habitats.

There is a small dugong population on Ashmore, probably distinct from other Australian populations. The relation to the Indonesian populations is unknown.

There are significant populations of sea turtles, both breeding populations and feeding populations breeding elsewhere.

There are at least 13 species of sea snakes, which is more than anywhere else.

Also birdlife is rich, with 93 species recorded.


The climate of Ashmore and Cartier Island is very similar to the Maldives, being arid tropical. Typically, rainfall is restricted to the summer monsoonal period in December–May. In this time freshwater lenses form, but the water may be unhealthy


There are no inhabitants, although you may come across Australian officials speaking English, Indonesian fisherman speaking Rotinese or other eastern Indonesian languages, or scientists from around the world.

Get in[edit]

It is a protected area. Only the east beach and west corridor of the West Island Lagoon of Ashmore Island are open to the public. Cartier Island is off limits due to unexploded ordnance. For most of the year, the Australian Border Force ship Thaiyak is in the vicinity. For access to any other part of the Ashmore Islands or any part of Cartier Island, a permit from the Australian government is required.

For the accessible West Island Lagoon, there is no landing strip. Visitors must arrive by boat, and those visiting must use visitor-designated moorings (buoys in the lagoon). If none are available, you can only anchor in sand, taking care to keep clear of the corals. Anchoring in or near the coral is not permitted. There are separate moorings for the authorities, which may not be used.

Most visitors arrive by own yacht, but there have been one or two commercial tours a year. The moorings are designed for different vessels. The heavy duty ones are suitable for a typical 20-m yacht in winds up to 15 m/s, for a typical 12-m yacht in winds up to 25 m/s.

Fees and permits[edit]

Map of Ashmore and Cartier Islands

There is a very limited area open to the public, mostly the West Island Lagoon, the access to it and a strip at the beach, 50 metres wide and at mean high tide 200 m up the shore.

Taking any object, animal or plant is forbidden, including collecting empty shells. Also don't feed the fish.

Using pesticides is not allowed.

Subsistence fishing is allowed according to special arrangements, at most for the need for one day of sailing. Check current regulations regarding needed permit, methods, allowed species etc.

Scuba diving and snorkelling in the areas accessible to the public is allowed without permits.

You'll need an appropriate permit for visits elsewhere, or for commercial activities, including commercial photography.

Make sure you don't pollute or disturb the environment. This is a very valuable reserve and it's one of the last of its kind here.

Get around[edit]

By a dinghy and swimming.


There are no shops. You must bring everything you need.


Subsistence fishing in the area accessible to the public, for immediate consumption and for one day of sailing, is allowed, but restricted to some species and specific methods, and might require a general permit. Any other food has to be brought. Campfires are not permitted.


There is a well at the beach, and after rain there may be water elsewhere. These may be infected with cholera, bring your own or check with the administration.


Your boat is the only option, unless you have permits for other arrangements. No camping.

Stay safe[edit]

Cartier Island is off limits due to UXO's (unexploded ordnance).

The wells that may be available are contaminated by cholera.

Take care with navigation, no guarantees the navigational advice or markings are correct.

Note the low lying nature of the islands.

Go next[edit]

If due to an accident you find yourself in the area of these islands and their reefs - the Indonesian island of Roti is 144 km north, and Australia's north west coast is over 300 km to the south. Mind the Timor Current driving you to the southwest.

  • Indonesia
  • Australian mainland
This park travel guide to Ashmore and Cartier Islands is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.