NASA picture of the southern Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Map of South Keeling Islands (1889)
Map of South Keeling Islands (1889)
Map of South Keeling Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of 14.2 square kilometres (5.5 sq mi), 2.6 kilometres (1.6 mi) of coastline, a highest elevation of 5 metres (16 ft) and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. The climate is pleasant, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.

North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about 50 metres (160 ft) wide, on the East side. The island measures 1.1 square kilometres (270 acres) in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about 0.5 square kilometres (120 acres). North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5 km from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995. It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail.

South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of twenty-four individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of 13.1 square kilometres (5.1 sq mi). Only Home Island and West Island are populated. People from Home Island maintain weekend shacks on the lagoon shore of South Island and on some of the smaller islands.

There are no rivers or lakes on either atoll; fresh water resources are limited to rainwater accumulations in natural underground reservoirs. Cocos (Keeling) Island is located on almost exactly the opposite side of the globe as Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

In 2009, there are an estimated 600 inhabitants of the islands. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island (est. pop. 100) and the ethnic Malays on Home Island (est. pop. 500). A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken, and 80% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim.