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group of islands situated east of Queensland, Austl., in the South Pacific Ocean; they constitute an external territory of Australia. Spread over a vast sea area of about 300,000 square miles (780,000 square km) off the outer (eastern) edge of the Great Barrier Reef, the islands themselves occupy only a few square miles of actual land area. They consist of widely scattered coral reefs and sand cays that support large populations of seabirds.