Tropical Cyclone Gillian threw a big bone to the tiny Scottish terrier shaped island known as Christmas in the Indian Ocean earlier in March this year leaving much devastation to the islands ecosystems. Although the township escaped virtually unscathed with only one pub losing its roof the islands vegetation and underwater marine sanctuary copped it big time. Several acres of remnant rainforest have been mulched down to open woodland and one of the best dives in the world, ‘perpendicular wall’ has been completely trashed.
It took Gillian close to 20 days to travel from her birthplace in the East Arafura Sea along the north Australian seaboard in a westerly direction to gain convection and organisation before she hit Christmas Island as a category 2 cyclone, boasting wind speeds of up to 96 kilometres per hour for sustained intervals of at least 10 very long and devastating minutes over a period of 15 hours. Before she was to depart the island she will gain the title of the strongest cyclone to hit the low risk island in over 30 years.
Residents were advised by the Bureau of Meteorology to “Take shelter and stay inside in the strongest part of their house, to protect themselves with mattresses and blankets and to wait until an “all clear” signal is given”. This was basic lifesaving advice however it is not easily relayed to the islands wildlife.
The Abbott's Boobies were hit the hardest. 40m tall rainforest trees which lay the foundations for the endemic bird species nesting sites were snapped in twos by the blustering winds.
The Abbott's booby is a large black and white ocean going bird species with blue grey legs and feet. It is an endangered species which breeds within only a small area on the western side of Christmas Island. This is unfortunately where Tropical Cyclone Gillian hit hardest. The latest population count according to Birdlife International suggests that there are only around 6,000 individual birds left in the world. This is a 40% decline in the total population over the past 90 years. The decline is attributed to habitat loss and degradation within the small area on the Island and now experts fear that the figures have been worsened by the recent Tropical Cyclone.
Abbott’s boobies only breed every two years as the young take a very long time to mature, around eighteen months in total which means that any disturbance to the fragile community can be disastrous. This is currently the case on Christmas Island which ‘locals’ are repugnantly bearing witness to.
Presently there have been 35 juvenile Abbott's boobies brought into rehabilitation and wildlife specialist fear that there may have been many more lost during the cyclone. Official staff and volunteers are working tirelessly in imperfect situations to try to care for the highly revered and endangered birds. Other bird species which have been affected by the cyclone include the Golden Bosun and the Christmas Island Frigate Bird which are also endemic to Christmas Island.
The young Abbott's boobies which have been fostered by both Christmas Island National Parks staff and Island Care Christmas Island volunteers, a small not for profit community based organisation eat around 8 small fish and squid a day and will require medication, housing and vitamin supplements for another 9 months at least until they fledge. This is a big cost which does not come cheap or easily.
So the good guys over on the island are asking for your help and for your efforts they are offering up bragging rights, stickers and books in return for your generosity. The island is still open for business and people are encouraged to get over there and check out the natural beauty and support local business during this formidable time.
If you would like to find out more information or details on how you can too help to save these beautiful birds please visit their website http://www.chuffed.org/project/save-the-abbotts-booby/#