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Greg Hunt MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
2 December 2005
Scientists around the world are helping Australia save one of the world's rarest seabirds, the Parliamentary Secretary with ministerial responsibility for Christmas Island National Park Greg Hunt said today.
Using cutting edge satellite technology, they are following the remarkable journey of a Christmas Island frigatebird called Lydia, and gaining vital new information on the threats which face this species.
"This is science at its most exciting," Mr Hunt said. "And it's being run out of one of Australia's most remote national parks, Christmas Island, 2500 kilometres west of Darwin in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia.
"Lydia has amazed us by making a marathon journey of 4000 kilometres over 26 days, breaking all records for the longest unbroken flight of any sea bird."
The Christmas Island frigatebird, Fregata andrewsi, is the world's rarest frigate bird and nests only on Christmas Island. It has a huge wing span of up to 2.5 metres. The frigatebird was named after its piratical habit of snatching food from other seabirds, and is sometimes known as the "Man o' War" bird after the Portuguese pirate ships or frigates that plied the oceans hundreds of years ago.
The species is listed globally as ‘critically endangered' by IUCN, the World Conservation Union and as ‘vulnerable' under Australian legislation. Numbers are falling - and no-one knows why.
Scientists suspect that its greatest threat comes from the changing marine habitat where it forages.
Scientists mounted a tiny satellite transmitter on Lydia's back on 17 th September in an effort to discover where she goes to feed. She made several short forays over the Indian Ocean before setting off on her marathon journey on October 18.
"Lydia flew along the coasts of Sumatra and Borneo before wheeling back high over the mountains of western Java and making a near perfect beeline to her nest in the forest canopy of Christmas Island," Mr Hunt said.
"For 26 days, she slept on the wing, probably at altitudes of hundreds or thousands of metres. She fed by capturing fish from the water's surface, catching flying fish in mid air and stealing the catch from other seabirds.
"Her six month old chick waited patiently in the nest for her return, presumably fed by her father."
"We can see that the areas where Lydia feeds in South East Asia have a range of environmental pressures, from marine pollution, acute fishing pressure in Indonesian waters, to rivers silted up through deforestation or contaminated by mercury from gold mining," Mr Hunt said.
The satellite tagging program is a global effort. The tag is one of four won in an international competition conducted by the American Bird Conservancy and donated by US manufacturers North Star Science and Technology. Scientists from the University of Hamburg helped our scientists to deploy the tag which transmits via satellites to a processing centre in France, before sending the data to Parks Australia's office on Christmas Island.
"The Australian Government has made it possible for nature lovers to re-live Lydia's record breaking trip."
"You can now make a virtual flight with Lydia on Google Earth, accompanying her over the deep waters of the Indian Ocean and the spectacular volcanic mountains of South East Asia," Mr Hunt said.
Kristy McSweeney 0415 740 722
Christmas Island Frigatebirds - route map
Step 1. If you do not already have the Google Earth file on your computer, download it free from http://earth.google.com/downloads.html
Step 2. Right click on the link below, select 'Save target as' or 'Save link as' and save the file to your computer.
Note: ensure that the file you save has a .kml extension (your browser may try to save it as .xml)
Step 3. Open Google Earth, then go to the File menu and Open frigate24.kml
Step 4. Click on ‘Christmas Island Frigatebird travels’ in the Places window, then go to the View menu and select Play Tour.