Australian Atolls in the Indian Ocean

Cocos (Keeling) coral atolls

The Indian Ocean is the second as a number of atolls in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

Despite it is considerably smaller in size than the Atlantic, it offers actually more favorable conditions when it comes to this type formations.

Many of the reefs in this part of the world are completely unknown and untouched, although the region of South Asia, which surrounds the Indian Ocean to the north, is among the oldest populated areas on the planet.

Many of these islands and reefs are a subject of interest mainly by enthusiastic scientists who want to discover new species and to observe how this perfect ecosystem actually works.

Other atolls are very different.

They enjoy worldwide fame and attract a large number of wealthy tourists from all over the world.

The formula of success is very simple – blue sea, warm weather, plenty of sunshine, white sand, biodiversity and traditional local hospitality.

Australian atolls

Cocos (Keeling) coral atolls
Cocos (Keeling) coral atolls by David Stanley

Hardly any other country in the world has so many coral reefs to offer as Australia.

The main reason is because the country is situated for the most part within the tropics.

And while everyone has heard of the Great Barrier Reef and the incredible underwater wealth that Australia keeps along the Pacific Ocean, for many is surprising to hear that the country has a lot of atolls in the Indian Ocean too.

And while some of them are located not far from the shore, others are distanced at thousands of miles off the the west coast of the continent.

In terms of size, they widely vary.

Some of them are large and populated and attract many visitors, while others have a very small area and are home only to representatives of wildlife.

There are even others that don’t even reach the ocean surface, and the edge of the reef remains several meters below sea level.

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Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Cocos (Keeling) Islands from space
Cocos (Keeling) Islands from space by NASA’s Earth Observatory

Cocos (Keeling) Islands is one of the most famous Australian atolls.

For most people it is a great surprise to learn that it is actually located not in the Pacific but in the Indian Ocean.

What is even more interesting is that it is located more than 2,000 km off the coast of the continent, south of the island of Sumatra.

It consists of two atolls (North Keeling and South Keeling) and 27 islands, which are respectively part of them.

South Keeling

Lagoon beach on Direction Island, Cocos (Keeling)
Lagoon beach on Direction Island, Cocos (Keeling) by David Stanley

South Keeling is the larger one, and it has a diameter of over 17 kilometers at its widest part. It consists of 24 separate islands.

Thanks to the superb white sand beaches, palm vegetation, crystal clear lagoons and constantly warm climate, the atoll has become a popular tourist destination.

The place attracts tourists mainly from Australia but there are also visitors from other parts of the world.

Unlike many other atolls, this one has a slightly higher altitude.

Its highest point reaches 5 meters above sea level.

Its shallow and rich in different life forms lagoon attracts snorkelers, divers, surfers and other water sports lovers.

In addition, the inner lagoon waters are very calm and perfect for swimming.

North Keling

North Keeling is very small, with a diameter of just over 2 km. It does not seem like a typical atoll. It consists of only three separate islands.

Although less known among tourists, the atoll is very important for the breeding of various species of birds.

Rowley Shoals

Rowley Shoals Atolls
Rowley Shoals Atolls by Roderick Eime

Rowley Shoals is a small group of three coral atolls, which are located just over 300 kilometers northwest of Broome, Western Australia, in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean.

See also  Atolls in the Atlantic

Despite the great distance from the shore, they are located in a relatively shallow area.

They rise from the ocean floor at a depth of 400-440 meters.

Their location, however, is close to the edge of the continental plate of Australia, which explains why the depth quickly reaches and exceeds 1000 meters just a few kilometers to the west.

They are well shaped and slightly elongated in a north-south direction.

They have very clear ring shape.

Two of them slightly protrude above the surface of the ocean, and the third remains completely underwater.

Because of its white sand and azure water, the place attracts lovers of diving and snorkeling.

Boat trip to Rowley Shoals
Boat trip to Rowley Shoals by Roderick Eime

This is something that really can be seen in a few places in the world, mostly in shallow tropical waters.

The charm of the islands is hard to resist but their beauty is really hostile if you want to stay there for a long time, which is actually nearly impossible.

The reason why these atolls could not be settled by people is because they are barely protruding above the water surface, and it becomes merely a question of narrow coral-sand stripes with no vegetation.

Unlike humans, however, marine species thrive at this place very well, and for them it is a paradise on Earth.

The shallow, sunny and warm waters are home of almost 700 species of fish.

Corals are between 200 and 250 species, which creates some of the most amazing underwater sceneries in the world.

They grow really well in the warm tropical waters with temperatures of between 23 and 29°C throughout the year.

Although very isolated and remote, the place attracts snorkelers who know what they really want to see and what they are looking for.

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Scott and Seringapatam Reefs

Scott and Seringapatam are coral reefs that have grown around volcanic islands, which, however, gradually disappeared into the ocean.

They are located just over 300 kilometers northwest of the state of Western Australia.

They are very well shaped and rise approximately 400 meters from the bottom to the surface of the Indian Ocean.

They barely touch the ocean surface, and this at very few places. Snorkelers and divers sometimes visit the narrow sandy stripes on the surface but as a whole, the atolls are almost entirely underwater.

Scott Reef consists of three reef and two atolls and Seringapatam – of one reef and one atoll.

Scott Reef

– Scott Reef South and Scott Reef Central are two separate reefs that form together a bigger atoll in the shape of the letter “C”.

Both are almost completely submerged. Only Scott Reef Central, the smallest reef, slightly protrudes over the ocean surface as a small sandy island.

It has insignificant width and length of just over 800 meters.

Scott Reef North

Scott Reef North is significantly smaller.

However, it looks like a very well-shaped ring.

Practically, Scott Reef North is completely under the water.

Only a small part of the reef appears above the surface during the low tide.

Seringapatam Reef

Seringapatam is the third atoll in the group. It is very well shaped and also resembles a ring.

It is completely submerged in the water except for a small coral formation barely appearing over the surface.

The reef itself is very shallow.

Even in some places the water is not able to completely cover the corals.

This is in a sharp contrast with the deep lagoon at the center of the ring.