The tour works with Christmas Island National Park, supporting bird and reptile conservation on Christmas Island. Below is more information on the conservation activities conducted during Bird’n’Nature Week, and the respite conservation program run by Christmas Island National Park.
During Bird’n’Nature Week, participants will be invited in small groups to help catch Abbott’s Boobies high in the rainforest canopy, assist to colour-band Brown Boobies and monitor their colonies on the remote and secluded rocky coasts. Participants will also work with our guides to study the nesting biology and foraging ecology of Christmas Island Frigatebirds and Red-tailed Tropicbirds. Depending on interest and demand, there will also be opportunities to assist in the colour-banding of Christmas Island Goshawks, a Christmas Island Hawk-Owl survey, seabird identification workshops, territory mapping of Island Thrushes and closer looks at the island’s other wildlife.
Bird’n’Nature Week is run in co-operation with Parks Australia, and all guides for the week are well-know research scientists. National Park staff work with researchers, the shire and the island community on a wide range of projects to protect the unique natural environment, including a dedicated team of rangers rehabilitating the rainforest to ensure the survival of the rare and threatened Abbott’s booby. The Abbott’s booby spends most of its life out at sea, but nests on Christmas Island and nowhere else in the world. The tall, emergent rainforest trees high on the plateau provide the only suitable nesting habitat, making this ecosystem critically important for the survival of the species.
In some areas, settlement and phosphate mining removed the original tall evergreen rainforest, with the loss of countless birds. There were indirect impacts too: open expanses of cleared mine lease caused wind turbulence over the forest canopy strong enough to dislodge Abbott’s booby chicks from their nests and limit the ability of parent birds to land and feed the young. The Abbott’s Booby Recovery Plan identified ecological restoration and reforestation of minefields as essential for the bird’s long-term survival. Since the early 1990s, Parks Australia has established and maintained more than 320 hectares of rehabilitation forest.
Christmas Island is home to six native terrestrial reptiles. Five species are endemic: the blue-tailed skink Crytptoblepharus egeriae and the forest skink Emoia nativitatis; the giant gecko Cyrtodactylus sadleiri and Lister’s gecko Lepidodactylus listeri; and a burrowing snake, the pink blind snake Ramphotyphlops exocoeti. The sixth native reptile, the foreshore skink Emoia atrocostata, is common on oceanic islands. In the late 1990s and through the 2000s, there was a marked decline in the range of several species. The endemic blue tailed skink virtually disappeared from the north-east and eastern parts of Christmas Island. The nationally-vulnerable Lister’s gecko was thought extinct on Christmas Island for more than 20 years, until in 2009 a small population was discovered. Introduced invasive species, particularly the yellow crazy ant, giant centipede, the Asian wolf snake, cats and rats, are thought to be the major reasons for the reptiles’ decline.
To bring back the reptiles at risk of extinction, in 2009 Christmas Island National Park embarked on a successful captive breeding program for the blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko. Captive populations are contained within the national park, and as a safety measure against any on-island disasters, at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. Populations continue to thrive. In mid 2013, there were 343 Lister’s geckos and 111 blue-tailed skinks housed on Christmas Island, with smaller numbers of 143 and 52 breeding at Taronga.
To house the growing reptile populations, the park has built a new reptile housing facility and will finalise the construction of eight predator-proof exclosures on the island in 2013,funded by a grant from the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife. The exclosures will hold up to 1,000 skinks.
Part of our Bird’n’Nature Week tour is to visit the “Lizard Lodge” at the Pink House Research station to witness the rehabilitation of two endangered endemic species of lizards – the Blue-Tailed Skink and the Lister’s Gecko. Guests also learn about the biological control for the introduced yellow crazy ants, which are having adverse affects on numerous endemic species, particularly the Christmas Island Red Crab. Many of our Bird’n’Nature week guests contribute their time and money to assist in this captive breeding program for our native wildlife.