The Timor Sea is home to some of the most remote and least-explored reefs in the world, providing protective habitats for hundreds of rare and endangered marine species.
The coral reefs are off the northwest coast of Australia; spread over 800km, these clustered reefs were built upon the Sahul Shelf.
The three main reef groups are the Ashmore and Cartier Islands to the northeast, Scott and Seringapatam Reefs in the middle, and the Rowley Shoals to the southwest; hundreds more isolated reefs are scattered closer to Australia’s coastline.
Scott and Seringpatam Reefs lie 300km off-shore from the Kimberley region of Western Australia; covering an area of only 55 square kilometres, the reefs consist of three separate atolls: coral reefs that surround a shallow lagoon.
Coral is built by sea organisms known as polyps that build limestone ‘walls’ to protect themselves from strong sea currents
and predators; over time, the colonies grow large enough to form reefs.
These atolls are thought to have formed as a result of ancient volcanic islands that once stood on the Sahul Shelf; coral reefs formed in a ring around the flanks of each volcano just under the water-line.
As the volcanoes died, they began to erode and subside beneath sea level while the coral continued to grow into large barrier reefs around the volcanic islands; this resulted in a ring of reef surrounding a shallow lagoon.
Scott and Seringapatam Reefs are particularly significant due to the types of coral that make up the reefs; several species of coral are endemic to these reefs, meaning that they do not exist anywhere else in the world.
In addition to corals, these reefs contain an enormous variety of marine species and are considered a hotspot of fish diversity; hundreds of different types of fish are found here, including more than 50 endemic species.