Christmas Island

Environment:

Christmas Island is an island in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia. It’s steep cliffs along the coast rise abruptly to a central plateau. The highest point is Murray Hill at 356 meters (1,168 feet). Environmental issues include loss of rainforest, and impacts of phosphate mining. Phosphate Resources Limited has operated on Christmas Island since 1990. Local government, known as the Shire of Christmas Island, lists a number of Environmental Services from animal control to waste services. In 2012, there was considerable uproar online when island holiday makers posted videos of floating garbage trapping hatchling seaturtles.

Christmas Island’s geographic isolation and history of minimal human intervention have led to a high level of endemic flora and fauna, of significant interest to scientists and naturalists. 63 percent of its 135 square kilometers (52 square miles) is Christmas Island National Park, largely primary monsoonal forest. Though caving is not allowed inside Christmas Island National Park, the island is literally peppered with caves. Upper Daniel Roux Cave is the most accessible cave; but, there are no cave tour operators to speak of.

The main event on Christmas Island every year is the renowned red crab migration, that takes place during the wet season, usually between October and December depending on rainfall. More than 150 million red crabs will move across the island for mating season. During the peak, sections of road where crabs cross may be closed to vehicles; though, there are specially made overpasses for just crabs in the national park. Besides red crabs, Christmas Island has the largest and densest population of giant coconut crabs in the world. The Yellow crazy ant is an invasive species that has been devastating for Christmas Island, killing and displacing crabs on the forest floor.

In addition to crabs, Christmas Island is known for its birds. There are two Ramsar wetlands on the island, at Hosnie’s Spring and The Dales. Every September there is a “bird week”, called Bird’n’Nature Week. There is a List of birds of Christmas Island on Wikipedia; otherwise, Jeff Blincow maintains a website dedicated to Christmas Island Wildlife. Prominent birds include the endemic Christmas Island Hawk-Owl, also known as the Christmas Boobook, the Christmas Frigatebird, and White-tailed Tropicbird (called the Golden Bosun). In defense of island birdlife, there is an active program to eliminate feral cats, and new felines are not permitted (while existing island pets must be neutered).

The whale shark season is November to April. Tiriki Hamanuka’s Wet ‘n’ Dry Adventures is the local dive operator.

Culture:

Christmas Island was named by Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company in 1643, as he sailed by on Christmas Day. Due to phosphate, originally deposited as guano, the island was annexed by the British Crown in 1888, and settled soon after. Phosphate mining was begun in the 1890s with indentured workers from Singapore, Malaya and China; and, Christmas Island eventually came under the jurisdiction of the Crown Colony of Singapore. Again due to the phosphate deposits, the island was occupied by the Japanese during WWII. In 1957, the United Kingdom transferred Christmas Island at Australia’s request, for which the Australian government paid Singapore compensation, based on the estimated value of phosphate. Today, Christmas Island is a territory of Australia.

Christmas Island is now widely known for refugee and immigration detention. In 2001, the Tampa affair lead to Australia’s so-called “Pacific Solution“, and as a result the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre was built at Phosphate Hill. The facility is currently run by the British contractor, Serco Group. It is not uncommon for boatloads of refugees to founder off Christmas Island; one of the worst incidents was the 2010 Christmas Island boat disaster. The unpredictable influx of refugees has lead to temporary food shortages. The Refugee Council of Australia is the national umbrella body for refugee organizations and the people who support them. The Australian League of Immigration Volunteers does have a Christmas Island Program, that sends volunteers to Christmas Immigration Detention Centre for minimum 4 weeks stays. On the island, there is also a government run volunteer resource center, the Christmas Island Neighbourhood Centre, but primarily for Australian citizens.

References:

  • Island casino development: an antithesis of socioculturally sustainable tourism. The cases of St Croix and Christmas Island. by J Liburd, J Carlsen & R Butler, 2011
  • Christmas Island–ecotourism and research by C Davies, 2007