A Science Story: Saving Christmas

Researchers are scrambling to save the native fauna on Christmas Island, a remote paradise with one of the worst extinction records in the world.

 
Flying Fish Cove, the site of Christmas Island’s largest human settlement. russavia/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Flying Fish Cove, the site of Christmas Island’s largest human settlement. russavia/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

 
 
In the very early days of the ant invasion, we found a gully where the crabs had been funnelled into a supercolony. And it was awful. There, in a hectare, there would have been 40,000 dead crabs.
 

Christmas Island sits about 1,500km west of the Australian mainland. When it was first settled in the late 19th century, the island was celebrated for its pristine wilderness and unique wildlife, including an annual migration in which tens of millions of red land crabs return to the ocean to breed.

Today, Christmas Island is under serious threat. Four of its five endemic mammal species are now extinct, and the fifth is critically endangered. The island’s land crabs are being decimated by plagues of aggressive, acid-spraying invasive ants. And then there’s Gump, the world’s last Christmas Island forest skink, who sat alone in her enclosure awaiting her species’ extinction.

 

This episode features the following guests:

Also thanks to Parks Australia and the Australasian Bat Society for helping me get in touch with Christmas Island researchers.

MUSIC

Aeronaut (In Paler Skies); Dana Boul (At Dawn); Jaap Blonk’s Iles Flottantes (Har); Kevin MacLeod (Colorless Aura, Decline, Heart of Nowhere, Marty Gots a Plan, Mary Celeste, Mysterioso March, Our Story Begins, Seven March, Steel and Seething, Terminal); Salomé Lego Playset (Seinshuct)

SOUNDS

dobroride (Teeth chatter); Frank R. Lambert (Christmas Hawk-owl, Ninox natalis – Recording AV#5344, Christmas Imperial Pigeon, Ducula whartoni – Recording AV#5081); Glenn Ehmke (Flying foxes); Lisa Redfern (Scratching); Mike Koenig (2 minute storm, Bite, Blood squirts, Bubbling, Cicada 3, Dump truck, Helicopter approach, Mosquito buzzing, Sea waves, Small airplane long flyby, Spit splat, Suck up, Underwater pool); Zabuhailo (ratSqueak)