North Keeling Island

Country/territory: Cocos (Keeling) Islands (to Australia)

IBA Criteria met: A4i, A4ii, A4iii (2009)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 121 ha

Protection status:

Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2008 high not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
This IBA covers the whole of North Keeling Island, being the only seabird colony in the Cocos (Keeling) group. North Keeling Island is one of the few remaining near-pristine tropical islands in the Indian Ocean (Stokes et al. 1984) and is the only seabird breeding colony within a radius of 975 km. It is part of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands group, which lies in the humid, tropical zone of the northern Indian Ocean about 2900 km north-west of Perth, 975 km west-south-west of Christmas Island and 1000 km south-west of Java Head, and which is administered as an Australian territory. North Keeling Island is a horseshoe-shaped island located 24 km north of the 26 islands which form the southern atoll of the island group. The island is about 2 km long and 1.3 km wide, with an internal lagoon and a terrestrial area of 1.2 km2 above the high water mark. It is a coral island rising steeply to a peripheral height of 5 m and sloping gently down to a large, shallow, sandy-bottomed lagoon which occupies the greater part of the interior. The composition of the island varies from sand to rubble, with some outcrops of coral conglomerate. Calcareous soils derived from coral breakdown overlie a highly permeable sub-stratum which allows rapid leaching of nutrients. The island experiences north-west monsoons from January to May which, moderated by oceanic conditions, bring an average 1976 mm of rainfall per year. These monsoons are replaced by relatively strong, constant south-east trade winds which blow for much of the rest of year, both during and outside the monsoon season. There is a Marine Park extending 1.5 km beyond the low water mark of the island (Berry 1989; Commonwealth of Australia 2004).

Key biodiversity
Large numbers of seabirds breed on North Keeling Island due to its isolation, difficulty of landing, absence of feral predators and access restrictions. Of the 24 species seen on North Keeling Island in the last 20 years, 15 breed on the island, or 16 should Herald Petrel also be confirmed to breed there. The Cocos subspecies of Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis andrewsi is common and occurs in all habitats, frequently foraging along the lagoon shore, eating crustacea, which are abundant in the seagrass deposited along the tide line. At North Keeling Island in November 1999, rails were vocal and breeding; the density was estimated as 6.2 birds/ha-1 and the population size at 750-800 individuals (approximate 95% confidence interval: 550-1000) (Reid 2000). There has been only one sighting of the rail on the main (southern) atoll since 1991 (an adult with five chicks on West Island in 2002) (Commonwealth of Australia 2004). Herald Petrel, listed in July 2002 as critically endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, breeds at fewer than five locations world-wide. It is believed to have a very small population in Pulu Keeling National Park but there are no confirmed recent sightings. White-tailed Tropicbirds are frequent, nesting in moderate numbers in hollows of mature Pisonia trees. Several species of migratory wader are occasionally seen feeding on the lagoon shoreline.

Non-bird biodiversity: The only terrestrial vertebrates present on North Keeling Island are birds and the gecko Lepidodactylus lugubris. North Keeling Island has never been colonised by rats. Crabs are the most conspicuous and probably the most numerous inhabitants of the forest floor and beach fringe. A species of cricket, Ornebius sp., a long-legged Dipteran, and the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, are plentiful. Butterflies, ants, cockroaches, beetles and weevils are also present on North Keeling Island. Spiders, a small wood-louse, centipedes, millipedes, termites, scorpions, various species of ectoparasitic ticks and mites, and a terrestrial mollusc Melampus sp. have also been recorded on North Keeling.

The Cocos (Keeling) atolls represent the western limit for many marine species of the Western Pacific biogeographic province. Those species established at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands must be pelagic as adults, or have long-lived pelagic larval stages. In general, the fauna is relatively depauperate compared with other atolls. Two species of dolphin are seen regularly: Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin. The turtles Chelonia mydas and Lepidochelys olivacea have been seen at the island. Yellow Crazy Ants exist on the island but as yet have not developed into supercolonies, probably in part due to the absence of scale insects (the principal source of the honeydew usually fed on by the ants elsewhere). Paw-paw is the most common weed present in the Park, but is not a major threat and all visitors and equipment coming into the Park are checked to ensure unwanted species from the southern atoll are not introduced to the Park.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: North Keeling Island. Downloaded from on 18/01/2021.