Christmas Island, tropical island (2016 pop. 1,843), 60 sq mi (155 sq km), an external territory of Australia, in the Indian Ocean c.200 mi (320 km) S of Java. The majority of the inhabitants are descendants of Chinese and Malays who came to work the extensive phosphate deposits. Mining began in the 1890s and stopped in 1987 as high-quality deposits were exhausted. It was revived in 1990 to extract lower-grade phosphate. Much of the island is now a national park, and there is limited tourism. The island was annexed by Great Britain in 1888 and became part of the former Straits Settlements in 1889. In 1958 it was ceded to Australia. The island has been used to detain and process Asian asylum seekers who are intercepted at sea, to hold criminals who have had their visas revoked, and to quarantine repatriated Australians during the 2020 coronavirus epidemic.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Australian and New Zealand Political Geography