Where is Ashmore Reef?
The Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve is located on Australia’s North-West Shelf in the Indian Ocean at 122°59’E, 12°11’S, about 450 nautical miles (840 km) west of Darwin (VK8), 330 nautical miles (610 km) north of Broome (VK6) and just 80 nautical miles (145 km) south of the Indonesian Island of Pulau Rote (YB9). The Reserve includes 583 square kilometres of seabed, three small islands, a large reef shelf and surrounding waters.
The Territory of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Islands is made up of the West, Middle and East Islands of Ashmore Reef as well as Cartier Island and the surrounding 12 nautical mile Territorial sea. The islands are uninhabited, small, low and composed of coral and sand, with some grass cover. The West, Middle and East Islands of Ashmore Reef are within the reef rim. They have a combined area of 1.12 square kilometres.
Indonesian fisherman have traditionally utilised the coastal resources of Ashmore Reef since the early eighteenth century. Prevailing trade winds and local land marks were used to set course and sail between the islands.
The first recorded European discovery of the islands was on the 11 June 1811. Captain Samuel Ashmore, commander of the Hibernia was titled with the discovery of Ashmore Island, and Captain Nash was credited with the discovery of Cartier Island and the nearby Hibernia Reef.
The 1850s saw the operation of American whalers in the region, and upon the discovery of phosphate deposits in the latter half of the nineteenth century mining began on West Island. In the late nineteenth century Britain and the United States of America contested the ownership of Ashmore Reef, with Britain assuming ‘formal’ possession in 1878. British sovereignty over the Island was later declared, with the subsequent annexation of Cartier Island taking place in 1909. The official proclamation of British land occurred on 17 May 1909.
By a British Order-in-council in 1931, Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia and who officially accepted the Territory in 1934 when the Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1933 came into operation. The Act authorised the Governor of Western Australia to make Ordinances for the Territory. In July 1938 the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Territory was annexed to the Northern Territory.
During the Second World War the territory received various naval visits and was used as a bombing and air weapons range for defence purposes. Throughout the 50s and 60s unmanned navigational lights and meteorological stations and signs were constructed, with naval visits and aircraft surveillance continuing.
Due to its proximity to Indonesia, and the area being traditional fishing grounds of Indonesian fishermen for centuries, some Indonesian groups claim Ashmore Reef to be part of the East Nusa Tenggara province. However, the Indonesian government does not appear to actively contest Australia’s sovereignty of the Territory. Australia’s sovereignty is backed up by the fact that the Territory was not administered by the Netherlands (Indonesia’s former colonial power), but by the British before it was transferred to Australia. In 1974 Australia and Indonesia entered into a Memorandum of Understanding recognising the traditional use by Indonesian fisherman of the territory’s resources, and granting the rights of access to Australian waters. Under the Memorandum of Understanding traditional Indonesian fisherman are permitted to land on West Island to replenish their stores of fresh water, visit the graves of past fishers and to take shelter in the West Island Lagoon.
In 1983 the Territory was declared a nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 now replaced by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Defence of Ashmore Reef is the responsibility of Australia by the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. When illegal activity is suspected crews are arrested, prosecuted and their vessels impounded. Today, the Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve is administered from Canberra (Australia’s capital city) by Parks Australia under the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy.
The reef boasts high species and habitat diversity with 14 varieties of sea snake, 433 species of mollusc and 70 fish species identified in the area, along with 255 varieties of coral. The islands also have significant marine turtle nesting areas and migratory bird populations, while dugong and whale sharks are sighted regularly around the reef. The plant communities are mainly shrubland with luxuriant growth during the wet season in sharp contrast to the dry season when there is a layer of dead plant material over much of the islands. There are feeding and nesting sites for loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles.
In 2003 the nature reserve was recognised as a wetland of international importance due to the importance of its islands providing a resting place for migratory shorebirds and supporting large seabird breeding colonies. It has 50,000 breeding pairs of various kinds of seabirds. For example, bridled terns, common noddies, brown boobies, eastern reef egrets, frigatebirds, tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, roseate terns, crested terns and lesser crested terns. It 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.
Operating from Ashmore Reef
In 2014, KD1CT Bob, PA3EXX Johan, VE3LYC Cezar and myself Craig VK5CE activated Sandy Islet on Scott Reef OC-294 which was the last remaining unactivated VK IOTA. Ashmore Reef is about 110 nautical miles (220 km) further north east of Sandy Islet. As it is claimed by only 3.2% of IOTA chasers, OC-216 is clearly the most wanted VK IOTA now (the next most wanted is OC-214 at 11.4%).
Apart from those IOTA’s that have never ever been activated before, OC-216 is now the 5th rarest on the Most Wanted IOTA in the world:
2017 Most Wanted IOTA list
1 AS-016 7O Gulf of Aden West Group 0.5%
2 AF-041 VQ9 Egmont Group 0.9%
3 OC-068 ZL Snares Islands 1.0%
4 OC-190 KH8 Rose Atoll 2.0%
5 OC-216 VK9 Ashmore & Cartier Islands 3.2%
6 AS-069 R0C Iony Island 3.2% (to be active in mid 2017)
Way back in August 1996 Steve AA6LF went to OC-216 for its one and only activation as VK4ALF/VK9. He operated from West Island, Ashmore Reef for 3 days using 100W powered by a boat battery and a Butternut multiband vertical.
The Ashmore Reef Commonwealth Marine Reserve is closed to the public. There is extremely limited access to a small part of the West Island. I will be active from West Island on Ashmore Reef which is an uninhabited low lying island made up of coral and sand with some grass cover and a single palm tree. It’s a small island measuring 680m west to east at its widest part and 450m north to south at its longest point.
Being claimed by only 3.2% means that the pile ups will be massive and the same as if I was activating a NEW IOTA group. I’ll spend 4 days on West Island. Vertical antennas near the waters edge will be used with 400W and the island is low lying and so no parts of the world will be blocked. I look forward to getting you into the log.