Australian Marine Parks

Ashmore Reef Marine Park is a sanctuary for seabirds, shorebirds, marine turtles, dugongs, and many other marine species.

Each year around 100,000 seabirds breed here, crammed together on the Marine Park’s three tiny islands. Breeding birds include:

  • crested terns
  • white-tailed tropicbirds
  • greater frigatebirds.

Tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds also turn up to feed.

These hungry visitors include:

  • curlew sandpipers (listed as critically endangered)
  • bar-tailed godwits
  • great knots.

Somewhere in the midst of this feathery mayhem, green turtles find room on the islands to dig their nests.

As well as these busy islands, the Marine Park includes lagoons, sand flats, reef flats and large seagrass meadows.

Hard and soft corals and sponges are diverse here.

Ashmore Reef Marine Park is in the Australian External Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, 630 kilometres north of Broome and 111 kilometres south of the Indonesian island of Roti.

The Marine Park covers 583 square kilometres, with depths from less than 15 metres to 500 metres.

Protecting the marine park

The marine park is mostly a Sanctuary Zone, providing the highest level of protection for birds and other marine life. The Sanctuary zone is managed to minimise disturbance to the environment from human activities, so only scientific research is allowed.

To protect the exceptional natural values of this area all vessels are prohibited from entering the Sanctuary Zone unless an approval is obtained from the Director of National Parks. 

The Recreational Use Zone allows for visitors to access this unique park, including a small area of West Island. To protect the sensitive coral reefs, visitors should use a mooring and if these are all occupied, anchor on sand.

The Marine Park is subject to a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia known as the MoU Box. The MoU allows traditional Indonesian fishers to:

  • access resources within the MoU Box and at Ashmore Reef Marine Park for fresh water
  • visit grave sites
  • shelter in the Recreational Use Zone.

Explore

For very keen bird watchers, there are occasional opportunities to join an expedition-style commercial birding trip to Ashmore Reef, a once-in-a lifetime birding dream!

Moorings

To prevent anchor damage to the coral reefs there are moorings available in the Recreational Use Zone.

Ramsar sites

The Ramsar Convention is an international wetlands conservation treaty, named after the city in Iran where it was signed on 02 February 1971.

Ramsar sites around the world protect wetlands of international significance, and the species that rely on them.

The Ashmore Reef Ramsar Site lies entirely within Ashmore Reef Marine Park. It was declared because the islands and surrounding waters are important for the seabirds, shorebirds and other marine life they support.

It is one of 65 Ramsar sites in Australia.

Other Australian Marine Parks with Ramsar sites nearby are Eighty Mile Beach Marine Park and Roebuck Bay Marine Park.

Discover

Seasnakes are marine reptiles, usually found in shallow coastal waters in tropical regions.

Ashmore Reef and the nearby Cartier Island Marine Park provide great habitats for them. The number and types of seasnakes were once high.

Unfortunately, since 1998, populations of seasnakes have declined. Keep an eye open for them.

Click on the map below to see what you can do in the Ashmore Reef Marine Park.

Download map

Network

Park area

583 km²

Depth range

15 to 500 m

Average depth

42 m