The Coral Sea Islands Territory is an external territory of Australia which comprises a group of small and mostly uninhabited tropical islands and reefs in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland, Australia. The only inhabited island is Willis Island. The territory covers 780,000 km2 (301,160 sq mi), most of which is ocean, extending east and south from the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, and includes Heralds Beacon Island, Osprey Reef, the Willis Group, and fifteen other reef/island groups. Cato Island is the highest point in the Territory.
The Coral Sea Islands were first charted in 1803. In the 1870s and 1880s the islands were mined for guano but the absence of a reliable supply of fresh water prevented long-term habitation. The Coral Sea Islands became an Australian external territory in 1969 by the Coral Sea Islands Act (prior to that, the area was considered part of Queensland) and extended in 1997 to include Elizabeth Reef and Middleton Reef nearly 800 km further south, already in the Tasman Sea.
The two latter reefs are much closer to Lord Howe Island, New South Wales, (about 150 km (93 mi)) than to the southernmost island of the rest of the territory, Cato Island. The islands, cays and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are not part of the territory, belonging to Queensland instead. The outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef is the boundary between Queensland and the Coral Sea Islands Territory.
The territory is a possession or external territory of Australia, administered from Canberra by the Attorney-General's Department (before 29 November 2007 administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). Defence is the responsibility of Australia, and the territory is visited regularly by the Royal Australian Navy.
Australia maintains automatic weather stations on many of the isles and reefs, and claims a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) exclusive fishing zone. There is no economic activity (except for a significant but as yet unquantified charter fishing and diving industry), and only a staff of three or four people to run the meteorological station on Willis Island (South Islet), established in 1921. In November 2011, the Australian government announced that a 989,842-square-kilometre (382,180 sq mi) protected area was planned in the Coral Sea.
In 2004, gay activists declared the Coral Sea Islands Territory Independent from Australia. The independence of the kingdom is based on Australia being guilty of "unjust enrichment", because of the government’s plan to amend the marriage act so as to prevent homosexual couples who were married overseas to have their relationship recognised. The law of “Unjust Enrichment” states: “If something is unjustly taken compensation must be made.”
The gay activists believe that the change in the marriage law has taken from homosexual people the right to be treated equally, “whether it be marriage, superannuation, hospital visits, adoption or IVF treatments”. Instead of financial compensation, the activists have chosen “territorial compensation” by establishing an independent gay state on a scattering of tropical islands in the Coral Sea.
The initiative for the founding of a gay kingdom was taken during the Brisbane Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival. The Coral Sea Islands were chosen because of a provision of international law that states “Oppressed people of overseas territories have a right to self government and self determination”. For a long time these islands were administered as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, but from the 1960s they were administered from Australia by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories as an overseas external territory of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The activists also presume that neither the United Kingdom nor Australia has any rights to the Coral Sea Islands, because neither government has provided to the gay government any recording of anyone proclaiming the Coral Sea Islands as part of the British/Australian Crown.
The Gay and Lesbian Kingdom raised the gay rainbow pride flag on Cato Island on 14 June 2004 and declared the territory an independent gay and lesbian state. A memorial plaque on the north eastern tip of Cato Island commemorates this historic event and reads:
"On the 14th day of June 2004, at this highest point in the Coral Sea, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson raised the gay rainbow flag and claimed the islands of the Coral Sea in his name as homeland for the gay and lesbian peoples of the world. God Save our King!" The Kingdom then declared war on Australia to force the Australian Government to recognise its independence.
On 28 February 2017, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz objected to the rainbow flag being displayed in the Department of Finance and other Australian Government buildings  on the grounds that government departments should take a neutral stand on political debates such as same sex marriage. He concluded his comments with an incidental observation by identifying:
"...[T]his particular flag is the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, which has declared war on Australia. Senator Cormann, you would understand this is now their official flag. It is the flag of a hostile nation, if we are to believe them, having declared war on Australia..."
Cormann agreed, affirming that "We will make sure that there are no flags of hostile nations anywhere in any government building".
There are about 30 separate reefs and atolls, twelve being wholly submerged or drying only during low tide, and 18 others with a total of about 51 islets and cays (18 alone on the atoll Lihou Reef), some of which are vegetated. The atolls exhibit a wide range of size, from a few kilometres in diameter to perhaps the second largest atoll in the world by total area (including lagoon): Lihou Reef, with a lagoon size of 100 by 30 kilometres (62 by 19 miles) and an area of 2,500 square kilometres (970 square miles), which compares to a combined land area of the 18 individual islets of only 0.91 square kilometres (0.35 square miles). The islands are all very low.
The Willis Islets are important nesting areas for birds and turtles but contain negligible natural resources. They comprise less than three square kilometres (1.2 square miles) of land. There is no port or harbour, only offshore anchorage.
Most of the atolls fall into two groups, while Mellish Reef to the east, and Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef to the south are grouped separately:
The atolls of the Northwestern Group, except Osprey Reef and Shark Reef in the north, and Marion Reef in the south, are located on the Coral Sea Plateau (Queensland Plateau), a contiguous area of depths less than 1000 m.
The Nature Reserves were created to protect wildlife in the respective areas of the territory; together they form the Coral Sea Reserves Ramsar Site.
Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs, together with reefs around Lord Howe Island (New South Wales) 150 km to the south, are regarded as the southernmost coral reefs in the world. Their location, where tropical and temperate ocean currents meet, contributes to an unusually diverse assemblage of marine species. These mostly submerged atolls which dry only during low tide were added to the territory only in 1989. They are located on the Lord Howe Rise in the Tasman Sea which joins the Coral Sea in the south. Already on 23 December 1987, they were protected as the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve, which has an area of 1880 km2.
|West Holmes Reef||atoll||2|
|Diane Bank||atoll (mostly sunken)||Diane Bank Cay|
|Willis Group||atoll (partially sunken)||South Islet (Willis Island), Mid Islet, North Cay|
|Magdelaine Cays and Coringa Islets||atoll (partially sunken)||Northwest Islet, Southeast Cay, Southwest, Chilcott Islets|
|Herald Cays (North)||reef||Northwest Cay|
|Herald Cays (South)||reef||Southeast Cay|
|Lihou Reef and Cays||atoll||18|
|Diamond Islands and Tregosse Reefs||atoll (partially sunken)||4|
|Flinders Reefs (North)||atoll||Flinders, Main, Victoria Cays|
|Marion Reef||atoll||Paget, Carola, Brodie Cays|
|Mellish Reef||atoll||Heralds-Beacon Islet|
|Frederick Reefs||atoll||Observatory Cay|
|Kenn Reef||atoll||Observatory Cay|
|Saumarez Reef||atoll||Northeast, Southwest Cays|
|Wreck Reef||atoll||Bird, West Islets, Porpoise Cay|
|Cato Reef||atoll||Cato Island|
|Total number of islands/cays||51|
Automatic, unmanned weather stations are located on the following reefs or atolls:
Lighthouses are located on following reefs or islands:
Willis Island, the only inhabited island, has a number of structures.
The Federal Government, through the Attorney-General's Department administers Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Jervis Bay, and Norfolk Island as Territories.
As part of the Machinery of Government Changes following the Federal Election on 29 November 2007, administrative responsibility for Territories has been transferred to the Attorney General's Department.