Christmas Island, Phosphorus Mining and the Endangered Abbott’s Booby

Endangered Species Article Series

Meet the Abbott’s booby (Papasula abbotti), from Chrismas Island. Abbott’s booby is only known to breed on Christmas Island and to forage in the waters surrounding the island. There are only about 6000 of them left in the world, and only about half of them have mates. They are rapidly losing their breeding grounds due to their disappearing habitat.

The Abbott’s booby has an amazing bird call that is very deep and throaty:

Here’s an Abbott’s booby in Flight:

According to the Australian Government Department of Sustainabity, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, “On Christmas Island, clearing of primary rainforest for phosphate mining has resulted in loss of a large percentage of the boobies’ nesting habitat. In the mid 1980s, the Abbott’s Booby Monitoring Program estimated that 33% of known Abbott’s Booby habitat had been cleared.”

Unpredictable extreme weather, and an influx of  Yellow Crazy Ants due to erosion are also problems the conservation efforts are working to solve. “Decades of phosphate mining on Christmas Island in Abbott’s Booby Papasula abbotti nesting habitat has created a conservation threat to this rare endemic seabird. The status of Abbott’s Boobies could be further jeopardised by other processes, such as the impact of Yellow Crazy Ants Anoplolepis gracilipes and other invasive species,” explains a  2012 study on the Abbott’s booby’s eroding habitat.

Phosphates Limited Resources (PLR) is the mining company that leases the Christmas Island mines for production. According to their June 30, 2010, Annual Report, business has been struggling. PLR reported “only $7.5 million dollars in profit” due to the lower production rates based on inclement weather and a crash in the phosphorus market.

Unfortunately, PLR only takes responsibility for the environment in theory, clearly placing the fate of the fragile Abbott’s Booby’s ecology back into the governments’ hands, stating: “As the Department of Environment and Conservation did not commit any new funding in the 2010/11 budget to implement the report’s recommendations, the PRL scientific programs have become critical to the Islands long term prospects. ” Because the government has not given PLR compensation for their studies, they believe they should control the conservation efforts.

PLR wants the Australian government to fund the solutions. PLR also wants to control the land studies and implementation of new conservation efforts. The Australian government has been slowly but surely taking strides to ensure recovery. There’s a lot of money at stake for both sides, and it appears the government wants to continue to rent the mines to PLR as long as possible.

The government of Australia has implemented a National Recovery Plan for the Abbott’s Booby. The Yellow Crazy Ant is the number one threat to this species, and the efforts to restore the ecology have started with a decrease in the ant’s population. Some threats, such as climate change and unpredictable weather, are out of human control. With predictions of growth in the phosphorus industry over the next 40 years,  however, it does not appear that mining will cease anytime soon.

Note: This is the first article series on endangered species.  In 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species listed 17,315 species as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. This article series is meant to take a definitive look at the causes of endangerment, the governments, scientists, and / or corporations involved, and what steps are being taken towards conservation of the species.

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