Coconut islands


Cocos Islands or Keeling is a group of 27 small coral islands located in the Indian Ocean. It is the External Territory of Australia under the name Territory of the Cocos (Keeling Islands). Area - 14 km². The population is 596 people. (2014), about 80% of them are Malays (coconut Malays). Administrative Center - West Island is located on the West Island. The official language is English. 80% of the population professes Islam.


The archipelago is located approximately 2930 km northwest of Perth, 3685 km west of Darwin, 960 km southwest of Christmas Island and more than 1000 km southwest of Java and Sumatra. The closest mainland point to Australia is Cape Low Point on the North West Cape peninsula at a distance of 2109 km.



In 2006 the population was 572 inhabitants, by August 2011 it had fallen to 550. The 2016 census listed 554 people.

The total land area is 14.2 km². Among the residents are more than 400 Cocos Malays, an ethnic group that formed on the islands throughout history.

The main island with an airport is West Island. About 130 residents live there, about 420 live on Home Island. The remaining islands are not permanently inhabited.



The Cocos Islands consist of two atolls, North Keeling and South Keeling, formed 25 kilometers apart on the tops of 16,000-foot submarine volcanoes known as Cocos Rise. They are part of a mostly submarine ridge that extends to Christmas Island. The atolls are connected to a plateau that lies at a sea depth of 700 to 800 meters. Charles Darwin visited the atolls in 1836 (the only ones he ever examined) and developed a theory of their formation that is accepted to this day.

The atolls have a total land area of ​​about 14 km². They are flat and flat, with the highest point only nine meters above sea level. The tidal range is no more than two meters. Both atolls are coral islands that rise an average of three to five meters above sea level and enclose a shallow lagoon in a ring. While they rise relatively steeply out of the sea on the outer sides, they drop gently towards the lagoon.



The smaller northern atoll, North Keeling, consists of a single, C-shaped island approximately 2.0 km long and 1.3 km wide. It has been under strict protection since 1986 and is part of the Pulu Keeling National Park.

The southern atoll, South Keeling, consists of 26 islands surrounding a pear-shaped lagoon about nine kilometers in diameter and up to twenty meters deep. The largest island, West Island, is about ten kilometers long and half a kilometer wide. There are no rivers or lakes on the islands. The only freshwater resources are shallow subterranean duckweed formed on some of the larger islands by rainwater floating on the heavier salt water.

The Cocos Islands are almost antipodal to Cocos Island (Costa Rica).


Flora and fauna

There were no land mammals on the Cocos Islands before human settlement due to their remote location. Seabirds are plentiful: 24 bird species have been recorded in Pulu-Keeling National Park, including the red-footed booby with more than 30,000 breeding pairs, great frigatebird, ariel frigatebird and the endemic Keeling's stone rail. There are green turtles and hawksbill turtles. The only species of sea snake that has been sighted on the southern atolls is the platelet sea snake. Numerous mollusks, fish species, crustaceans, echinoderms and reef-building hard corals are found in the sea around the islands.

Since the Cocos Islands were never connected to a mainland, plant seeds could only be carried by wind, water or birds before human settlement. Relatively few plant species evolved in a geological environment characterized by volcanism and coral growth. 61 species of plants have been counted on the Cocos Islands. Pisonia, coconut palms, velvetleaf, tea plants and grasses of the purslane-quesseria grow on the atolls and in the waters of the atolls weed forests, seagrass meadows and tropical sea plants.



The islands are said to have been discovered in 1609 by William Keeling, a captain in the British East India Company. However, evidence for this thesis is lacking. Only in a Dutch atlas from 1659 is the "Cocos Eylanden" mentioned for the first time, in 1703 the British hydrographer Thornton called them "Keeling Islands". A first detailed description can be found in 1753 in the book "Zeefakkel" by the Dutchman Gerard Hulst van Keulen. The British hydrographer James Horsburgh made detailed nautical charts of these waters in 1805 and referred to the islands as "Cocos-Keeling Islands". In the years that followed, several ships stranded off the islands (1825 the Mauritius from France and 1826 the Sir Francis Nicholas Burton and 1834 the Earl of Liverpool from Great Britain).

Start time
In 1826 the Dutch settled the former British commissioner of Borneo, Alexander Hare, with his entourage and Malay serfs on the islands off their colony of Java. He cultivated West Island, Horsburgh Island and Direction Island where he produced coconut oil. In 1831 Hare left the Isles and died en route to Britain. His administrator John Clunies-Ross from Scotland then appropriated the islands. He also produced coconut oil, which he successfully sold in Dutch Java. The islands also served as a stopover for whaling ships en route to Antarctica. Clunies-Ross established an authoritarian rule in the islands with its own laws and its own island-only currency, which was only abolished in 1978. A British commission should examine the conditions on the island. However, the British found no reason to intervene. However, the British rejected Clunies-Ross's desire for British rule over the island. In 1841 he therefore hoisted the Dutch flag because of his good trade relations with Java, but this was forbidden by the Dutch government.

British seizure
After the death of John Clunies-Ross in 1854, his son John George took over the islands. In 1857, Britain accidentally took official possession of the Cocos Islands. The colonial administration ship was actually supposed to occupy the Cocos Islands north of the Andaman Islands. John George Clunies-Ross brought more workers, mostly prisoners from Java, to the islands. There were numerous uprisings and looting.

After his father's death, the new owner, George Clunies-Ross, abolished forced labor in 1871 and replaced the prisoners with Malay labourers. In 1876 a cyclone destroyed more than half of the coconut plantations. Clunies-Ross rebuilt the islands' infrastructure. In 1901, the Eastern Extension Telegraphy Company set up a relay station for their submarine cable network on Direction Island. Another cyclone in 1909 completely devastated the islands, destroying 90% of the palm trees and 95% of the houses. His life's work destroyed, George Clunies-Ross died in 1910 and his son Sydney Clunies-Ross took over the dominion of the islands. He had two Malays, who are said to have murdered a compatriot, sentenced to death and dumped alive in the sea with weights on their feet.

First World War
A radio station was also built on Direction Island in 1910. During World War I, cable and radio stations on the island were the target of an attack on November 9, 1914 by a German landing company from the light cruiser SMS Emden. During the attack, the SMS Emden was spotted and attacked by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney. The small remaining German crew returned fire and the Sydney even turned away, but turned back as soon as it became clear that the Emden was not following and fired again at the Emden, on which there were casualties. The ship was so badly damaged in this battle that it had to be set ashore and abandoned by its own crew. The Emden landing corps, which had stayed behind in the battle of the warships, crossed to Sumatra with the schooner Ayesha and later, with extraordinary difficulties, reached the Arabian coast with the German steamer Choising and from there via Constantinople (Istanbul) home.

Second World War

After the First World War all the islands were settled and the population was 1450 people in 1940, the supply of which became increasingly critical due to the Second World War. Due to the living conditions on its islands, Sydney Clunies-Ross narrowly avoided indictment by the British Anti-Slave League.

Coastal artillery was stationed on Horsburgh Island and infantry on Direction Island to protect the cable station from the Japanese. Despite this, a Japanese warship shelled the islands in 1942, and numerous air raids followed until the end of the war. On the night of May 8-9, 1942, Ceylonese artillerymen from the garrison on Horsburgh Island mutinied. Their leader was the artillery sergeant Gratien Fernando, who persuaded his comrades that Asia should be reserved for the "Asians". Their action, known as the Cocos Islands Mutiny, was crushed and three of them, including Fernando, were sentenced to death. They were the only British Commonwealth soldiers executed for mutiny during World War II. In the heaviest air raid in August 1944, 27 houses were destroyed and several people died. Sydney Clunies-Ross died shortly thereafter. From March to May 1945, the Allies built an airstrip on West Iceland. 8,300 soldiers were stationed on the Cocos Islands.

Australian takeover
In 1946 the runway was closed and the military withdrew. The economic situation of the islands worsened. Sydney Clunies-Ross's son, John-Cecil, took over the islands but struggled to stem the exodus of workers despite new homes and electricity. The runway was reopened in 1952 as a stopover for civilian air traffic. In 1955, Australia incorporated the islands into its territory through the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955. In the years that followed, cyclones destroyed the coconut plantations that had been rebuilt after the war. It was not until 1968 that the Australian government became aware of the feudal conditions on the islands. After a visit in 1971, a member of the government prepared a report on the grievances on the islands. In 1974, the UN requested Australia to report on the Cocos Islands.

Finally, in 1978, the Australian government bought most of the islands from John-Cecil Clunies-Ross for AUD 6.25 million. Democratic elections were held for the first time and the Clunies-Ross island money was abolished. A school was built and medical care was provided. In the 1984 referendum, a majority of islanders voted to remain with Australia. The copra production had to be stopped in 1987 due to inefficiency. The population now hopes for tourism. Former island owner John-Cecil Clunies-Ross also sold his last property on the islands in 1992 after becoming bankrupt after a failed investment in ships.

The Cocos Islands are within Australia's migration zone. This means that boat people who land on the island cannot apply for asylum in Australia and are held in immigration detention in Australia.



A post office was established in 1979 to issue postage stamps and generate revenue for the island community. In 1987 the production of copra and coconut oil, until then the main source of income for the islanders, was stopped. Local fishing and the cultivation of bananas, vegetables and papayas contribute to the diet, but most food, like all other goods, has to be imported. In 1999 imports amounted to AUD 2 million, in 2002 to AUD 11 million; they were not matched by any exports. In 2000, the Australian and regional governments supported a research project to produce high quality carbon fiber from coconut products. In 2000, the island's Internet top-level domain .cc was sold to a private investor, who resold it to the Network Information Center Verisign; the Cocos Islands generate regular income from this sale. The unemployment rate of 11.3% in the 2006 census is probably underestimated; Estimates go up to a rate of 65%. A relaxation of the local labor market is expected from the establishment of a center for Muslim tourists from the Pacific region, which should offer 79 jobs.

The state law of Western Australia applies on the territory. There are four police officers stationed on the archipelago.