Christmas Island

Introduction Named in 1643 for the day of its discovery, the island was annexed and settlement began by the UK in 1888. Phosphate mining began in the 1890s. The UK transferred sovereignty to Australia in 1958. Almost two-thirds of the island has been declared a national park.
History

For centuries, Christmas Island's isolation and rugged coasts provided natural barriers to settlement. British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts from the early seventeenth century, and Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25 December 1643. The island first appears on a map produced by Pieter Goos and published in 1666. Goos had labelled the island Moni.

The earliest recorded visit was in March 1688 by William Dampier of the British ship Cygnet, who found it uninhabited. An account of the visit can be found in Dampier's Voyages, which describes how, when trying to reach Cocos from New Holland, his ship was pulled off course in an easterly direction and after 28 days arrived at Christmas Island. Dampier landed at the Dales (on the West Coast) and two of his crewmen were the first recorded people to set foot on Christmas Island.

The next visit was by Daniel Beekman, who described it in his 1718 book, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies.

In 1771, the Indian vessel, the Pigot, attempted to find an anchorage but was unsuccessful; the crew reported seeing wild pigs and coconut palms. However, pigs are not known to have been introduced to the island at the time, so the Pigot may have found a different island.

Exploration and annexation

The first attempt at exploring the island was in 1857 by the crew of the Amethyst. They tried to reach the summit of the island, but found the cliffs impassable.

During the 1872-76 Challenger expedition to Indonesia, naturalist Dr John Murray carried out extensive surveys.

In 1887, Captain Maclear of HMS Flying Fish, having discovered an anchorage in a bay that he named Flying Fish Cove, landed a party and made a small but interesting collection of the flora and fauna. In the next year, Pelham Aldrich, on board HMS Egeria, visited it for ten days, accompanied by J. J. Lister, who gathered a larger biological and mineralogical collection.

Among the rocks then obtained and submitted to Sir John Murray for examination were many of nearly pure phosphate of lime, a discovery which led to annexation of the island by the British Crown on 6 June 1888.

Settlement and exploitation

Soon afterwards, a small settlement was established in Flying Fish Cove by G. Clunies Ross, the owner of the Keeling Islands (some 900 kilometres to the south west) to collect timber and supplies for the growing industry on Cocos.

Phosphate mining began in the 1890s using indentured workers from Singapore, China, and Malaysia.

The island was administered jointly by the British Phosphate Commissioners and District Officers from the United Kingdom Colonial Office through the Straits Settlements, and later the Crown Colony of Singapore.

Japanese invasion

Japan invaded and occupied the island in 1942, as the Indian garrison mutinied, and interned the residents until the end of World War II in 1945.

Transfer to Australia

At Australia's request, the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to Australia; in 1957, the Australian government paid the government of Singapore £2.9 million in compensation, a figure based mainly on an estimated value of the phosphate forgone by Singapore.

The first Australian Official Representative arrived in 1958 and was replaced by an Administrator in 1968. Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands together are called the Australian Indian Ocean Territories and since 1997 share a single Administrator resident on Christmas Island.

Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia
Geographic coordinates: 10 30 S, 105 40 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 135 sq km
land: 135 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: about three-quarters the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 138.9 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 12 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical with a wet season (December to April) and dry season; heat and humidity moderated by trade winds
Terrain: steep cliffs along coast rise abruptly to central plateau
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Murray Hill 361 m
Natural resources: phosphate, beaches
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (mainly tropical rainforest; 63% of the island is a national park) (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: the narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard
Environment - current issues: loss of rainforest; impact of phosphate mining
Geography - note: located along major sea lanes of Indian Ocean
Politics

Christmas Island is a non-self governing territory of Australia, administered by the Attorney-General's Department[2] (before November 29, 2007[3] administration was carried out by the Department of Transport and Regional Services). The legal system is under the authority of the Governor-General of Australia and Australian law. An Administrator (Neil Lucas, since 28 January 2006) appointed by the Governor-General represents the monarch and Australia.

The Australian Government provides Commonwealth-level government services through the Christmas Island Administration and the Department of Infrastructure.

There is no State Government; instead, state government type services are provided by contractors, including departments of the Western Australian Government, with the costs met by the Australian (Commonwealth) Government.

A unicameral Shire of Christmas Island with 9 seats provides local government services and is elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Elections are held every two years, with half the members standing for election.

Christmas Island residents who are Australian citizens also vote in Commonwealth (federal) elections. Christmas Island residents are represented in the House of Representatives through the Northern Territory Division of Lingiari and in the Senate by Northern Territory Senators.

In early 1986, the Christmas Island Assembly held a design competition for an island flag; the winning design was adopted as the informal flag of the territory for over a decade, and in 2002 it was made the official flag of Christmas Island.

People Population: 1,402 (July 2006 est.) (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: NA
15-64 years: NA
65 years and over: NA
Population growth rate: 0% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: NA
Death rate: NA
Net migration rate: NA
Sex ratio: NA
Infant mortality rate: total: NA
male: NA
female: NA
Life expectancy at birth: total population: NA
male: NA
female: NA
Total fertility rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Christmas Islander(s)
adjective: Christmas Island
Ethnic groups: Chinese 70%, European 20%, Malay 10%
note: no indigenous population (2001)
Religions: Buddhist 36%, Muslim 25%, Christian 18%, other 21% (1997)
Languages: English (official), Chinese, Malay
Literacy: NA
Government Country name: conventional long form: Territory of Christmas Island
conventional short form: Christmas Island
Dependency status: non-self governing territory of Australia; administered from Canberra by the Australian Attorney-General's Department
Government type: NA
Capital: name: The Settlement
geographic coordinates: 10 25 S, 105 43 E
time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: none (territory of Australia)
Independence: none (territory of Australia)
National holiday: Australia Day, 26 January (1788)
Constitution: Christmas Island Act of 1958-59 (1 October 1958) as amended by the Territories Law Reform Act of 1992
Legal system: under the authority of the governor general of Australia and Australian law
Executive branch: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952), represented by the Australian governor general
head of government: Administrator Neil LUCAS (since 30 January 2006)
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; administrator appointed by the governor general of Australia and represents the monarch and Australia
Legislative branch: unicameral Christmas Island Shire Council (9 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: held every two years with half the members standing for election; last held 20 October 2007 (next to be held in 2009)
election results: percent of vote - NA; seats - independents 9
Judicial branch: Supreme Court; District Court; Magistrate's Court
Political parties and leaders: none
Political pressure groups and leaders: none
International organization participation: none
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (territory of Australia)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (territory of Australia)
Flag description: territorial flag; divided diagonally from upper hoist to lower fly; the upper triangle is green with a yellow image of the Golden Bosun Bird superimposed, while the lower triangle is blue with the Southern Cross constellation, representing Australia, superimposed; a centered yellow disk displays a green map of the island
note: the flag of Australia is used for official purposes
Flora and fauna

Christmas Island is of immense scientific value as it was uninhabited until the late nineteenth century, so many unique species of fauna and flora exist which have evolved independently of human interference. Two species of native rats, the Maclear's and Bulldog Rat have gone extinct since the island was settled, and one species of shrew may be already extinct. Two-thirds of the island has been declared a National Park which is managed by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage through Parks Australia.

The dense rainforest has evolved in the deep soils of the plateau and on the terraces. The forests are dominated by twenty-five tree species. Ferns, orchids and vines grow on the branches in the humid atmosphere beneath the canopy. The 135 plant species include sixteen which are only found on Christmas Island.

The annual red crab mass migration (around 100 million animals) to the sea to spawn has been called one of the wonders of the natural world[5] and takes place each year around November; after the start of the wet season and in synchronisation with the cycle of the moon.

The land crabs and sea birds are the most noticeable animals on the island. Twenty terrestrial and intertidal crabs (of which thirteen are regarded as true land crabs, only dependent on the ocean for larval development) have been described. Robber crabs, known elsewhere as coconut crabs, also exist in large numbers on the island.

Christmas Island is a focal point for sea birds of various species. Eight species or subspecies of sea birds nest on the island. The most numerous is the Red-footed Booby that nests in colonies, in trees, on many parts of the shore terrace. The widespread Brown Booby nests on the ground near the edge of the seacliff and inland cliffs. Abbott's Booby (listed as endangered) nests on tall emergent trees of the western, northern and southern plateau rainforest. The Christmas Island forest is the only nesting habitat of the Abbott's Booby left in the world. The endemic Christmas Island Frigatebird (listed as endangered) has nesting areas on the north-eastern shore terraces and the more widespread. Great Frigatebirds nest in semi-deciduous trees on the shore terrace with the greatest concentrations being in the North West and South Point areas. The Common Noddy and two species of bosuns or tropicbirds with their brilliant gold or silver plumage and distinctive streamer tail feathers also nest on the island. Of the ten native land birds and shorebirds, seven are endemic species or subspecies. Some 86 migrant bird species have been recorded.

Economy Economy - overview: Phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian Government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened. With the support of the government, a $34 million casino opened in 1993, but closed in 1998. The Australian Government in 2001 agreed to support the creation of a commercial space-launching site on the island, expected to begin operations in the near future.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $NA
Labor force: NA
Budget: revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
Agriculture - products: NA
Industries: tourism, phosphate extraction (near depletion)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: NA
hydro: NA
nuclear: NA
other: NA
Exports: $NA
Exports - commodities: phosphate
Exports - partners: Australia, NZ (2006)
Imports: $NA
Imports - commodities: consumer goods
Imports - partners: principally Australia (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $NA
Currency (code): Australian dollar (AUD)
Currency code: AUD
Exchange rates: Australian dollars per US dollar - 1.2137 (2007), 1.3285 (2006), 1.3095 (2005), 1.3598 (2004), 1.5419 (2003)
Fiscal year: 1 July - 30 June
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: NA
Telephone system: general assessment: service provided by the Australian network
domestic: GSM mobile telephone service replaced older analog system in February 2005
international: country code - 61-8; satellite earth stations - 1 INTELSAT earth station provides telephone and telex service (2005)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 2, shortwave 0 (2006)
Radios: 1,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 0 (TV broadcasts received via satellite from mainland Australia) (2006)
Televisions: 600 (1997)
Internet country code: .cx
Internet hosts: 1,826 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 2 (2000)
Internet users: 464 (2001)
Transportation Airports: 1 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2007)
Roadways: total: 142 km
paved: 32 km
unpaved: 110 km (2006)
Ports and terminals: Flying Fish Cove
Military Military - note: defense is the responsibility of Australia
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: none