The Coral Sea Islands Territory includes a group of small and mostly uninhabited tropical islands and reefs in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland, Australia. The only inhabited island is Willis Island. The territory covers 780,000 km2, extending east and south from the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, and including Heralds Beacon Island, Osprey Reef, the Willis Group, and fifteen other reef/island groups
There are about 30 separate reefs and atolls, twelve being wholly submerged or drying only during low tide, and 18 others with a total of about 51 islets and cays (18 alone on the atoll Lihou Reef), some of which are vegetated. The atolls exhibit a wide range of size, from a few kilometres in diameter to perhaps the second largest atoll in the world by total area (including lagoon): Lihou Reef, with a lagoon size of 100 by 30 kilometres and an area of 2,500 km2, which compares to a combined land area of the 18 individual islets of only 0.91 km2. The islands are all very low.
The Willis Islets are important nesting areas for birds and turtles, but their natural resources are negligible. They comprise less than three square kilometres of land. There is no port or harbour, only offshore anchorage.
Most of the atolls fall into two groups, while Mellish Reef to the east, and Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef to the south are grouped separately.
Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, together with reefs around Lord Howe Island (New South Wales) 150 km to the south, are regarded as the southernmost coral reefs in the world. Their location, where tropical and temperate ocean currents meet, contributes to an unusually diverse assemblage of marine species. These mostly submerged atolls which dry only during low tide were added to the territory only in 1989. They are located on the Lord Howe Rise in the Tasman Sea which joins the Coral Sea in the South. Already on 23 December 1987, they were protected as the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve, which has an area of 1880 km2.
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