Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve

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Transitional arrangements

Until a new management plan comes into effect there will be no changes to management arrangements for the renamed Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

  • Transitional arrangements involve NO CHANGE ON THE WATER for marine users.
  • If you hold an existing approval to undertake activities within the renamed Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve, you are able to continue to operate under the terms of your existing approval.
  • No additional administrative requirements apply.

Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve (previously named Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve) forms part of the North-west Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network. Interim management arrangements apply until the management plan for the North-west Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network comes into effect.

Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve is located on Australia's North-West Shelf in the Indian Ocean, about 450 nautical miles (840 km) west of Darwin and 330 nautical miles (610 km) north of Broome. The reserve covers 583 km2 and includes two extensive lagoons, shifting sand flats and cays, seagrass meadows, a large reef flat covering an area of 239 km2. Within the reserve are three small islands known as East, Middle and West Islands.

Ashmore was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2003 due to the importance of its islands providing a resting place for migratory shorebirds and supporting large seabird breeding colonies.

Original Proclamation Date 16 August 1983, now renamed Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve
Area 583 km2
Depth range 15-1500 m (approx.)
Types of zoning IUCN Category Ia (550 km2) - Sanctuary Zone
IUCN Category II (33 km2) - Recreational Use Zone

Major conservation values

  • Ecosystems, habitats and communities associated with:
    • the North West Shelf
    • Timor Province
    • emergent oceanic reefs
  • The island and reef is an important area for the following protected species:
    • internationally significant for its abundance and diversity of sea snakes.
    • critical nesting and internesting habitat for green turtles, supporting one of three genetically distinct breeding populations in the North-west Marine Region. Low level nesting activity by loggerhead turtles has also been recorded.
    • large and significant feeding populations of green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles occur around the reefs. It is estimated that approximately 11 000 marine turtles feed in the area throughout the year.
    • supports a small dugong population of less than 50 individuals that breeds and feeds around the reef. This population is thought to be genetically distinct from other Australian populations.
    • support some of the most important seabird rookeries on the North West Shelf including colonies of bridled terns, common noddies, brown boobies, eastern reef egrets, frigatebirds, tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, roseate terns, crested terns and lesser crested terns.
    • important staging points/feeding areas for many migratory seabirds
  • Cultural and heritage sites:
    • Indonesian artefacts
    • Grave sites