The CSIT lies east of Queensland. It consists of all the islands between the Great Barrier Reef and longitude 156°E, between latitudes 12° and 24°S.
Land and sea area: About 780,000 sq km.
Topography: The islands are small, formed mostly of coral and sand. No permanent supply of fresh water on any of them.
Climate: Tropical; occasional cyclones.
Vegetation: Grass and shrubs grow on some of the islands.
Wildlife: Lihou Reef and Coringa-Herald are national nature reserves for the protection of wildlife. Dermochelys coriacea, the world’s largest and most endangered species of sea-turtle, nests in the territory, as well as five other species of sea-turtle. There are more than 24 species of birds, many of which are protected under agreements with Japan and China. Herbaria and museums in Australia contain many specimens of CSIT flora and fauna.
Uninhabited, except for a meteorological station with a small staff on Willis Island.
Overview: There is no economic activity. There are automatic weather stations on Cato Island, Flinders Reef, Frederick Reef, Holmes Reef, Lihou Reef, Creal Reef, Marion Reef and Gannet Cay, relaying data to the mainland. Navigational aids are located on many of the islands and reefs.
Until 1921, when the meteorological station was set up on Willis Island, the CSIT was totally uninhabited. Navigation in the territory is extremely difficult, and there were frequent shipwrecks during the 19th century. Many of the islands and reefs are named after ships wrecked on them. Since 1859, expeditions of botanists and zoologists have visited the territory.
Under the Coral Sea Islands Act of 1969, the Coral Sea Islands are an Australian territory administered by the minister for infrastructure, transport, regional development and local government. The governor-general of Australia can make ordinances relating to peace, order and the good government of the territory.