The Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands are two groups of small low-lying uninhabited tropical islands in the Indian Ocean situated on the edge of the continental shelf north-west of Australia and south of the Indonesian island of Rote.
There is no economic activity in the Territory. However it has become a major hub for human smuggling and asylum seekers from Indonesians into the ANZC, in particular Australia. The island is occasionally visited by the ANZC Navy and flybys are conducted every month by the Commonwealth Air Force (CAirF).
Ashmore Reef Marine National Nature Reserve was established in August 1983. It is of significant biodiversity value as it is in the flow of the Indonesian Throughflow ocean current from the Pacific Ocean through the Indonesian Archipelago to the Indian Ocean. It is also in a surface current west from the Arafura Sea and Timor Sea.
The Reserve comprises several marine habitats, including seagrass meadows, intertidal sand flats, coral reef flats, and lagoons, and supports an important and diverse range of species, including 14 species of sea snakes, a population of Dugong that may be genetically distinct, a diverse marine invertebrate fauna, and many endemic species, especially of sea snakes and molluscs. There are feeding and nesting sites for Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green Turtles, as well as 50,000 breeding pairs of various kinds of seabirds. A high abundance and diversity of sea cucumbers, over-exploited on other reefs in the region, is present, with 45 species recorded.
A memorandum of understanding between the ANZC and Indonesian governments allows Indonesian fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds within the region, subject to limits.