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Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

21 October 2002

Ashmore Island (2001),  Photo: Suzanne Ferguson

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


External Territories


Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve includes an area of approximately 58 300 hectares.

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Timor Province

Wetland type: 

  • A - Permanent shallow marine waters in most cases less than six metres deep at low tide; includes sea bays and straits
  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • C - Coral reefs
  • E - Sand, shingle or pebble shores; includes sand bars, spits and sandy islets; includes dune systems and humid dune slacks
  • G - Intertidal mud, sand or salt flats

Key features of the site:

Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve (formerly Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve) is located in the north-eastern Indian Ocean on the edge of Australia's North West Shelf. The Reserve is in Australia's External Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands and is under the jurisdiction of the Australian Government.

It is the largest of only three emergent oceanic reefs present within the north-eastern Indian Ocean, and is the only oceanic reef in the region with vegetated islands. The Reserve is comprised of numerous marine habitats and supports a regionally important and diverse range of species.

The Reserve has been recognised internationally for its high diversity and density of sea snakes. The Ramsar site is also home to Dugongs, highly diverse reef building corals, and numerous endemic species of fish and other marine invertebrate fauna.

The three vegetated islands and several sand cays of the Reserve include important seabird and turtle nesting sites and support large populations of migratory shorebirds and breeding seabirds.

Ashmore has been regularly visited and fished by Indonesians since the early eighteenth century. Indonesian artefacts identified in the Reserve include ceramics, graves, ballast rocks and what could be a trepang (sea cucumber) cooking site.

Tourism and recreation as well as access to shelter and water for traditional fishers from Indonesia in the Reserves is mainly limited to West Island Lagoon and part of West Island. Research relevant to the Reserve and nearby reefs has included surveys, monitoring and/or research on terrestrial and marine non-indigenous species, sea birds, migratory shorebirds, sea snakes, fish, corals, sea cucumbers, trochus, clams, cephalopods and other marine invertebrates.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve Ramsar site meets six of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: Ashmore is the largest of the atolls in the Timor Province bioregion. The three islands within the site are also the only vegetated islands in the bioregion. Each of the wetland types present are in near natural condition and the site has the largest seagrass coverage in the bioregion.

Criterion 2: Ashmore Reef supports 64 species of internationally and nationally threatened species. This includes 41 species of hard reef forming coral, eight fish, six reptiles (including endangered and critically endangered sea turtles and seasnakes), five sea cucumbers, two giant clams, one soft coral and the dugong.

Criterion 3: Ashmore Reef plays a primary role in the maintenance of biodiversity in reef systems in the region. The Reserve supports 275 species of reef building coral, 13 species of sea cucumbers, and high numbers of mollusc species. There are over 760 fish species, 13 species of sea snake and 99 species of decapod crustacean.

Criterion 4: Ashmore Reef supports 47 species of waterbird listed as migratory under international treaties. It supports breeding of 20 species of waterbirds including the brown booby, lesser frigatebird, crested tern, bridled tern, sooty tern and common noddy. The Ramsar site is also important for feeding for green turtles, hawksbill turtle and loggerhead turtle and critical nesting and inter-nesting habitats for green and hawksbill turtles.

Criterion 5: Ashmore Reef regularly supports more than 20 000 waterbirds and has been known to support more than 65 000 waterbirds.

Criterion 6: The Ramsar site regularly supports more than one per cent of at least six species of waterbird including the sooty tern, bar-tailed godwit, grey-tailed tattler, ruddy turnstone, sanderling and greater sand plover.

Please see the More Information page for additional information on this Ramsar site and access to the Ramsar Information sheets and other associated site documents.