When discussing my studies with my non-scientist friends/family, generally they are less interested in discussing the finer points of biological invasion theory and normally ask follow up questions such as, “So Christmas Island……; How big is it? How many people live there? Where is it? What do people do there?” So with that in mind, I present a little blog detailing some of the ‘non-PhD-project’ related things on Christmas Island that kept and continue to keep me distracted. Also, a few trivia style facts about the island should excite everyone to the wonders of isolated tropical island life!
1. The place, people and paraphernalia….
Christmas Island, isolated in the Indian Ocean, is around 135 km2 and basically the shape of a Scottish terrier (Fig. 1). Although historically a phosphate mine, the island is remarkably well vegetated, around 73% is still forested, of which most (63%) is designated national park. The permanent population of the island consists of about 1500 ‘locals’. To establish true ‘local’ status is said to take upward of 5 years, however, if your active within the community it doesn’t take anytime to make a whole bunch of friends who treat you like a ‘local’ anyway. And the final point, paraphernalia, is pretty much a reference to the Islands duty-free status, and therefore, the ridiculously cheap price of liquor and smokes (Fig. 2).
2. The ecosystem – terrestrial
Now everyone should know about the abundant red land crabs on Christmas Island, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of interesting wildlife and a unique ecosystem. The island also contains an abundance of bird life including the threatened Abbotts Booby. Most of the forest bird species are super inquisitive and you rarely spend a day in the field without a flock of White-eyes or a Goshawk (Fig.3) coming to see what your up to. The island is also a bit of a mecca for bird watchers and the tourism association organizes a “bird week” each year. Head to the Tourism Association webpage to find out more
3. The ecosystem – marine
So of course life on any tropical island should revolve around the ocean and Christmas Island is no exception. I personally haven’t partaken in the marine lifestyle as much as I probably should have (I don’t fish and I have gotten around to diving), but fishing and diving are really the most common past-times on the island. Most people have a boat (or has a mate that has a boat) and spend many an evening or day off chasing tuna and wahoo. The diving on Christmas Island is pretty spectacular. I always use this quote I stole from someone and have never checked to see if it’s correct; “the reefs around the island have 1/10th the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef in 1/100th of the area”. There is also the opportunity to swim with the ocean’s largest fish – the Whale Shark. The point – call Hama and get your dive on>
4. Christmas on Christmas (the people again)
People get a second mention here because they are so welcoming it hardly feels like you’re on an isolated island at all. Last year my lovely zoologist fiancé Thea (Fig. 4) came to the island and we celebrated Christmas and New Years together and with the island community. I would recommend to anyone to take the opportunity to celebrate an ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ if you get a chance. Instead of doing essentially the same thing as always with your family, spend the day with old or new friends, that are also away from their extended families, and I guarantee a Christmas worth remembering.
5. 6RCI; Your community radio
As a frequenter to live music, particularly filthy blues-driven rock n roll, a handful of acoustic jam sessions on the island wasn’t particularly fulfilling my musical appetite. Enter the community radio station! Christmas Island has a long history with their radio station as for long time it was the only thing they could listen too. The station includes an extensive vinyl library, which includes heaps of 45’s, some from the early 60’s. These days, the island receives radio signals from JJJ, the ABC and some commercial FM station so interest in Radio 6RCI has waned somewhat. However, on Thursdays from 6pm the station is always rocking to the sound of raucous tunes as The Fountains of Riff Raff takes to the air. My show always endeavoured to also include live music; probably the best performance was from 5-piece rockabilly ensemble, Rocky Riff Raff & The Robbers (Fig. 5)
So light on for science somewhat but I hope people have appreciated learning a few interesting things to do/about Christmas Island.