The Timor Sea is a shallow-bounded body of water located between the Island of Timor (where it forms a natural limit between Indonesia and Timor-Leste) and Australia. On the east and west, it is also bound by the Arafura Sea and the Pacific Ocean, respectively.
Here are a few facts about the Timor Sea:
- It is believed that Australia’s aboriginals may have arrived to the continent by island-hopping across the Timor Sea, around the time when sea levels were significantly lower.
- While the Timor Sea may be shallow, the deep Timor runs through near its northern edge, marking a natural boundary between the Indo-Australian plate and the Timor Plate.
- According to the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Program, this body of water (along with nearby Arafura) is estimated to share over 10% of Earth’s coral reefs, and 0.75% of sea mounts.
- Additionally, because of its relative remoteness, the sea harbors an extraordinary amount of marine wildlife, from shorebirds and dugong, to five out of seven different types of turtles and sea snakes.
- The climate around the Timor Sea is tropical and monsoonal; many weather phenomenons originate in this body.
- Two recent cyclones that disrupted the production of petroleum and hydrocarbons in the sea and human capital in Southeast Asia were Vivienne in February 2005, and Severe Tropical Cyclone Willy a month later.
- The sea contains significant petroleum and gas reserves, from which exploration is shared by Australia and Indonesia. Major petroleum projects in the region are spearheaded by Bayu-Undan (operated by ConocoPhillips), AED Oil, and Woodside Petroleum.
Since the discovery of petroleum in the 1970’s —and specifically, that of Greater Sunrise in 1974—, both Australia and East Timor are locked in a dispute over their national boundaries and the access to these hydrocarbon fields. The first Timor Gap Treaty was signed in 1989 between Australia and Indonesia, which became invalid when Timor-Leste seceded from the latter; another treaty was negotiated in 2002, dividing the sea’s natural reserves in a 90:10 ratio. However, the sea was subject to Australia’s worst oil spill in 2009, when the Montara oil field leaked over 74 days and pumped between 500 and 2,000 barrels of oil a day.