Interim report | Christmas Island Expert Working Group

2009

Parks Australia July 2009

  • The FINAL report, released in September 2010 can be found here

Executive Summary | Introduction

The Expert Working Group was formed in February 2009 in response to growing concern about the decline of the Christmas Island pipistrelle (the island's only insectivorous bat) and, in particular, the report to DEWHA by Lumsden and Schulz (2009). The working group came quickly to the realisation that, to meet its brief, its focus would have to be both wide and deep, encompassing the ecology of the whole island and its surrounds. This report reflects that approach.

The working group notes that resolution of biodiversity conservation issues on Christmas Island has been an ongoing concern, expressed previously by Inquiries by the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Conservation (1974) and the Senate Committee of Science, Technology and the Environment (1983).

There is a major difference in focus between previous reviews and ours. The earlier reviews sought resolution of classical but simple conflicts between resource utilisation (specifically, phosphate mining) and biodiversity conservation (specifically, the breeding sites of seabirds) through the judicious allocation of lands, either to National Parks or to mining.

We realised that this approach has been inadequate: the conservation problems on Christmas Island are pervasive, chronic and increasing and, unfortunately, will not have simple solutions.

Despite the majority of its land being in a national park, Christmas Island has suffered extinctions of three vertebrate species and is witnessing rapid decline to probable extinction of its few remaining endemic reptile species and its only insectivorous bat. It is also probable that seven plant species may be extinct.

In addition Christmas Island is suffering dramatic losses of the Red crab. The Red crab is not only its most conspicuous and remarkable species, but also the pivot of the island's unique ecology, which is of international significance. There are also concerns for the island's remarkable stygofauna. These facts imply a deep ecological malaise.

Our assessment reflects recognition of the more pervasive effects of the many pressures on the Christmas Island ecosystem, and the enormous challenge that these pose for implementing appropriate management responses on the island.

Our conclusion is that long-term and substantial changes will be required in the management of Christmas Island and its surrounding seas as a single ecological entity. Otherwise management will fail.

The working group's recommendations include some which are broad-ranging and long-term. We are recommending changes that will reduce the probability of further extinctions and reverse the decline in the island's endemic species and ecological processes. We are recommending changes that must be maintained to ensure the future of the extraordinary national asset that is Christmas Island's biodiversity.

Recognising that the need for some actions is very urgent, we present this report, grounded in the terms of reference provided by the Minister on 16 February 2009. The report will be refined over the coming months as there are a number of outstanding assessments that require time. The most significant of these are the possible disease loads of the Christmas Island pipistrelles and the ecological impact of Fipronil. Findings in these areas could influence our final recommendations and future management.

Expert Working Group members

Associate Professor Bob Beeton (Chair)
Dr Andrew Burbidge
Professor Gordon Grigg
Dr Ric How
Mr Norm McKenzie
Dr John Woinarski
Secretariat
Ms Anne-Marie Delahunt
Ms Kerry Cameron
Ms Meryl Triggs