• Georgina Steytler

Christmas Island: The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean

Hands up who thinks that the only thing of note on Christmas Island (CI) is a very ugly and controversial detention centre?

Yep. You would not be alone. In fact, when I mentioned I wanted to go there to my sister she immediately screwed up her nose and exclaimed with horror, 'Why?'

Unfortunately, amid all the negative publicity surrounding its use as an Australian refugee/immigration detention centre, and then as a Covid-19 quarantine station, the true nature of this gem in the Indian Ocean has been lost to the world. For a gem it is. Not only does it have beautiful azure waters brimming with tropical fish (a snorkellers delight), jungle walks to stunning waterfalls and secret coves of white sandy beaches (with the odd nesting sea turtle or giant coconut crab to boot) it also has around 80,000 nesting seabirds every year, including the world’s rarest booby and frigatebird, and around 50 million red crabs. In fact, CI's annual red crab migration has been described by David Attenborough as one of the '10 greatest natural wonders on earth'.

On the road to Dolly Beach, close to the migration season in the early morning, you can come across hundreds of crabs and it's very slow going as you have to constantly stop and move them off the road (and let me tell you, they are not happy chappies about it either!). During peak season, many roads are closed. Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F2.8L/16-35mm Lens, F7.1, 1/160, ISO1600.

To be fair, most avid birders are already familiar with it's treasure trobe of avian delights, not least amongst them the indefinably beautiful Golden Bosunbird, a golden morph of the White-tailed Tropicbird, only found on the island.

Golden Bosunbird (a.k.a White-Tailed Tropicbird, Phaeton lepturus fulvus subspecies). Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F4/600mm Lens, F8, 1/8000, ISO1250. Some of these birds are so 'yellow/orange' it looks like you slipped on the saturation button! Most of my images of these birds were taken from the very conveniently located lookout at the entrance to Territory Park (next to the HQ of the CI National Park). It overlooks Flying Fish Cove and the tropicbirds, as well as frigatebirds, are constantly flying below you over the azure waters of the cove - sublime!

Each year in September, CI hosts an annual Bird ‘n’ Nature Week. There are also 'birding' tours run by different tour operators throughout the year which specialise in scouring the island for it's ten endemic birds, of which 7 are threatened (Abbott's Booby, Golden Bosunbird, Emerald Dove, CI Thrush, CI Goshawk, CI Frigatebird and CI Hawk-Owl) as well as the odd vagrants that invariably find themselves on its shore (Christmas Island being closer to Indonesia than to Australia) from time to time (when I was there, there was a Grey Heron!).

But it's potential as a bird (nature) photographer's paradise has yet to be fully explored with no less than 3 species of boobies, 3 species of frigatebirds and white and red-tailed tropicbirds. I spent ten days there last year and I can safely say that I'd be back in a heartbeat. This is NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY HEAVEN. In case you need convincing, just check out my photos below.

(I have also included some helpful information for planning your tour, below).


I have included information about each species from a fabulous book you can get at the tourist information centre titled "Christmas Island: Animals, Plants and Island Ecology", by Elizabeth Rippey and Nic Dunlop. Please note that the book was published in 2015. Therefore, the bird population numbers and status may not accurately reflect the current position.

Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel). Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F4.5-5.6 100-400mm Lens @400mm, F5.6, 1/1600, ISO800.

Red-footed Booby, juvenile (Sula sula rubripes). Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F4/600mm Lens, F8, 1/2000, ISO1600. These are the world's smallest boobies, though still quite large seabirds. There are around 12,000 pairs resident on CI and you can always see them in the trees near Ethel Beach. I took this image, though, from the Golf Course Lookout. I can't resist photographing a booby coming in to land as that is when they put down their feet (landing gear), even if it's the backside view! They are simply adorable and a total pleasure to watch.

White-tailed Tropicbirds (one white morph, one golden morph). Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F4/600mm Lens, F8, 1/5000, ISO800.