5 Jun 2018

Bird paradise Christmas Island saved from mining devastation

Following a tireless campaign by BirdLife Australia, which gained support from around the world, the Australian Government has decided to reject an application for phosphate mining on Christmas Island, a crucial wildlife haven in the Indian Ocean.

The Christmas Frigatebird (Critically Endangered) is now safe from habitat destruction © Chris Surman
The Christmas Frigatebird is now safe from large-scale habitat destruction © Chris Surman
By John Peter, BirdLife Australia

It was one of the best Christmas presents ever — and it’s only June!

Last week, the Federal Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, decided to reject an application for the expansion of phosphate mining on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. BirdLife Australia has been campaigning hard to prevent the mining operation from destroying even more of the island’s pristine rainforests, and our many supporters have played a crucial role.

Over 56,000 people from right across Australia — and across the world — rallied to save the island and its unique birds by adding their signatures to BirdLife Australia’s petition, calling on the government to stop the mining from encroaching further into Christmas Island’s tropical rainforests.

The petition was delivered to the Minister earlier this year — and the government finally listened. The great number of signatures showed that people really cared, and they played a crucial role in convincing Mr Frydenberg to reach his decision, a rare ministerial edict in favour of the environment.

He rejected the application for expanded mining “because it is likely to have significant and unacceptable impacts on matters protected under national environment law.”

Christmas Island’s pristine rainforests support the world’s last remaining breeding colony of Abbott’s Boobies Papasula abbotti, an Endangered species, and it’s also where the world’s rarest frigatebirds, the Christmas Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi (Critically Endangered), build their nests. Seven species of bush birds unique to Christmas Island (four of which are threatened species), plus loads of other marvellous wildlife, also inhabit the rainforest.

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It’s such a significant place that Christmas Island has been designated as one of Australia’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), a hotspot for Nature, but ongoing threats to the island’s biodiversity have led it to be declared as one of Australia’s 10 ‘KBAs in Danger’.

It seems a ‘no-brainer’ to save Christmas Island’s rainforests, and yet their survival —and the survival of their unique wildlife — hinged solely on the discretion of one man — Mr Frydenberg — and that was far from certain. That it was only ministerial discretion which stopped the mining highlights how nature hangs precariously in the balance under Australia’s current environment laws. They need fixing.

In the meantime, Christmas Island’s wildlife is still facing a number of threats to its ongoing survival, and we must now keep working to eliminate them. With your help, we can work towards Christmas Island being removed altogether from the list of KBAs in Danger.

This article was originally published on BirdLife Australia's website.