Australian Wetlands Database

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Pulu Keeling National Park


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

17 March 1996

A sandy beach of North Keeling Island (2003),  Photo: Fusion Films

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


External Territories


2602 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:

Cocos (Keeling) Island Province

Wetland type: 

  • B - Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows
  • C - Coral reefs
  • D - Rocky marine shores; includes rocky offshore islands, sea cliffs
  • E - Sand, shingle or pebble shores; includes sand bars, spits and sandy islets; includes dune systems and humid dune slacks

Key features of the site:

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a group of 27 coral islands forming two atolls 24 kilometres apart and located 2900 kilometres northwest of Perth in the Indian Ocean. North Keeling Island, with an area of just 1.2 square kilometres, is part of the Cocos Islands. The Ramsar site includes the marine area surrounding the Island along with the terrestrial area of North Keeling Island, matching the boundary of Pulu Keeling National Park.

As an island atoll in its most natural state, North Keeling is a significant biological resource and is internationally important for the conservation of biodiversity. The Ramsar site is one of the few remaining islands where rats have not yet been introduced, and is generally unaffected by feral animals.

The island has a tall forest of pisonia, coconuts, an extensive stand of ironwood, pemphis, and endemic pandanus, amongst other species.

The Ramsar site is also an internationally significant seabird rookery. Fifteen species of birds recorded on the Island are listed under international migratory bird agreements and 15 seabird species use the atoll for nesting. The breeding colony of the dominant bird species, the red-footed booby, is one of the largest in the world. It is also the main locality of the endemic Cocos buff-banded rail.

The island is home to a number of crabs including the robber crab and red crab, and is used by the threatened green turtle and hawksbill turtle. Green turtles also occasionally nest on North Keeling Island. Some 525 fish species are recorded from the Cocos Islands, including the angelfish, which has only been recorded from these islands and Christmas Island. There are no mammals on the island, although marine mammals visit the surrounding waters.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands were not inhabited until 1825, although their existence was known of prior to this. The islands were the only coral islands visited by Charles Darwin in 1836, and were a key feature in the development of his theory of coral reef formation. The wreck of the SMS Emden, a WWI German battleship, is off the southern side of the island and is a protected site.

Current use of the Ramsar site includes scientific research, and tourism activities such as scuba diving, snorkelling and surfing.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Pulu Keeling National Park Ramsar site meets six of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: North Keeling Island is an island atoll (a ring-shaped ribbon reef enclosing a lagoon in the centre) that is largely unchanged from its natural state, supporting an internationally important seabird rookery, near natural vegetation, and a marine refuge zone.

Criterion 2: Several threatened species are supported by Pulu Keeling National Park Ramsar site, including the green turtle, hawksbill turtle, and the Cocos buff-banded rail.

Criterion 3: The Ramsar site supports three endemic species: the Cocos buff-banded rail; the Cocos sub-species of Pandanus tectorius; and the angelfish, which is only recorded from Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. In addition, Pulu Keeling National Park supports a number of species of plant and animal that are not recorded in the southern atoll islands.

A total of eight species of fish recorded at Pulu Keeling National Park have not been observed in the southern atoll. In addition, the coral reef communities of the Cocos (Keeling) and Christmas Islands are considered globally unique due to the most recorded marine fish hybrids of any location in the world.

Criterion 4: Pulu Keeling National Park supports 13 species of waterbird listed as migratory under international treaties and two species of migratory turtles (green and hawksbill). The following species breed in significant numbers within the Ramsar site: red-footed booby, lesser frigatebirds, greater frigatebirds and common noddy.

Criterion 5: The site regularly supports more than 30 000 pairs of red-footed booby; up to 15 000 common noddy and 3000 greater and lesser frigate birds.

Criterion 6: Pulu Keeling National Parl regularly supports 30 000 breeding pairs of red-footed booby (six per cent of the global population; and 3000 breeding pairs of lesser frigatebirds (three per cent of the global population).

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.