The island is the summit of a submarine volcano. Some basalt is exposed but most of the surface rock is limestone accumulated from the growth of coral over millions of years. Steep cliffs along much of the coastline rise sharply to a central plateau. Most of the island was originally tropical rainforest.
Christmas Island was only colonised in the late 1800s and has a history of destructive phosphate mining. The mining industry has brought a mix of cultural influences from both Europe and Asia to the island. As the mining operation scale down it is likely that the population of the island will be reduced. Nature tourism is an important force for the future. About 65% of the island is under the protection of the Australian Parks authority, who are responsible for the conservation measures to protect the island's unique natural heritage. The extent of the Christmas Island National Park is, however, more defined by land usage than conservation value. Over millions of years Christmas Island has evolved into the environmental jewel we now value and logically it should not be long before the whole island is a National Park. The unique environments of this 'Galapagos of the Indian Ocean' deserve to be protected as a whole forever. In global terms is also bizarre that Christmas Island is not a World Heritage site considering its natural importance.
It has a unique natural topography and is of huge interest due to the number of species of endemic flora and fauna which have evolved in isolation. Seabirds can be found flying or nesting in most parts of the island. Some of the more spectacular ones are the endemic Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi and the Abbott's Booby Sula abbotti. Land crabs are found throughout the island. Christmas Island is best known for the spectacular migration of millions of Red Crabs Gecarcoidea natalis. They move from the shade of the forest to the coast to breed in November - December. Whale sharks Rhincodon typus time their migration to utilise the crab breeding late in the year. Blue Crabs Discoplax hirtipes and Robber Crabs Birgus latro are also to be found in the forests which can also be searched for Christmas Island Goshawks Accipter fasciatus natalis and Christmas Island Fruit Bats Pterocarpus natalis.
It seems strange that National Recovery Plans exists for some endemic species and not others. Island birds are particularly vulnerable to extinction and so it appears the status of endemic birds is more realistically represented by the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett and Crowley) rather than the current listings under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Fortunately, protection of habitats for one species provides protection for all species that depend on those habitats, even those deserving of more conservation concerns but not mentioned in national recovery plans. The better protection given to endangered species rather than endangered sub-species also needs to be carefully considered on Christmas Island with its high number of endangered sub-species.
Forest clearance for phosphate extraction has destroyed 25% of forest habitats, but has now been halted. The greatest current threat is from the introduced Yellow Crazy Ant Anoplolepis gracilipes which is spreading rapidly across the island. These ants are likely to alter the whole ecology of the island. The crazy ant invasion has catastrophic consequences to biodiversity and conservation values. It is possible to implement effective control measures but it is unclear if sufficient resources are being deployed in this direction.
CIA - The World Factbook - Christmas Island
Wikipedia - Christmas Island
Commonwealth Secretariat - Christmas Island
BirdLife International - Endemic Bird Areas - Factsheet
Wilderness Society - Save Christmas Island
Christmas Island National Park
Christmas Island National Park - Management Plan
Christmas Island National Park - Minesite to Forest Rehabilitation Programme
Christmas Island National Park - Red Crab
Christmas Island National Park - Crazy Ant
Christmas Island National Park - Wildlife Brochures
Christmas Island Tourism Association - Red Crab Bulletin
Crabs vs miners on Australian 'Galapagos' - Telegraph.co.uk
'Crazy ants' threaten Christmas Island crabs - Telegraph.co.uk
Tougher times for Christmas Island? - csmonitor.com