Where Is The Arafura Sea?

The Arafura Sea sits between northern Australia and the western part of the island of New Guinea.

The Arafura Sea is is located west of Pacific Ocean, above the continental shelf between the southern coast of Indonesian New Guinea and the northern coast of Australia. The Arafura Sea occupies an area of approximately 250,966 square miles, and is 800 miles long and 350 miles wide. Most parts of the sea have a relatively shallow depth of between 165 to 260 feet, although the western edge, where coral reefs have formed, reach a depth of almost 2,000 feet. The Arafura Sea is not fed by many larger rivers, with the notable exception of the Digul River.

Origin of the Sea's Name

The name of the sea first appeared in 1837 in British navigator George Windsor Earl's text Sailing Direction for the Arafura Sea. The word Arafura may have originated from a mistranslation of the Portuguese word "Alfores" which means "free men." However, the sea's name most likely originated from the indigenous Molucca language spoken in Indonesia, meaning "children of the mountain." 

Geography of the Arafura Sea

The Arafura Sea is located on the Arafura Shelf, which is a section of the larger Sahul Shelf. The Arafura Shelf is a low-level land surface that was characterized by arid climate prior to the sea’s postglacial rise. The sea is located west of the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the Torres Strait, which connects it to the Coral Sea, in the east. In terms of climate, the Arafura Sea is fully tropical and experiences a relatively stable trade wind throughout the year and intermittent monsoon winds during the summer period. The warm-water current flowing from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, known as the Indonesian Throughflow, has a great influence not only on the climate of the sea but also of the entire region. The sediment of the Arafura Sea is rich in calcium carbonate. The Arafura Sea has several inhabited islands, the largest of which are the Aru Islands that have a population of approximately 80,000 people. Other notable islands include Howard Island, Croker Island, and the Goulburn Islands.


The Arafura Sea is known for its rich sea life. Shrimp and demersal are common fish resources in the sea, and grouper and Barramundi fishing is important to the local economies. Although many parts of the world are experiencing a steady decline in fish populations due to the effects of overfishing and pollution, the Arafura Sea is one of the few areas with abundant marine resources. However, there is growing concern over illegal and unregistered fishing activities which have increased in recent years. Some fishing activities are also unreported, making it difficult for authorities to properly regulate and monitor the seas. In 2002, the Arafura and Timor Seas Expert Forum (ATSEF) was established in an attempt to promote more sustainable practices and management.


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