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Christmas Island Declining Biodiversity

Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 21 Feb 2011

Environment and Communications Committee - Monday 21 February 2011

Senator SIEWERT—Thanks. I want to move on to Christmas Island. I want to go to the expert working group and the release of the report and then the implementation of its recommendations and find where that is up to. Then I want to ask a few specific questions.

Mr Cochrane—Thank you. The expert working group final report was released, I think, in September last year. We have been implementing a number of its recommendations as we go and as resources permit. But as I think I said last time, there are a number of those recommendations which are the responsibility of other portfolios or at least involve other portfolios. So we have been undertaking, and we are still engaged in, a consultation process with other departments on how to best implement those other recommendations.

Senator SIEWERT—So what is the time line for that process?

Mr Cochrane—No specific time line was set. As I have said, the things that are within our control we are moving forward with to the best of our ability. On a number of them we have made some quite reasonable progress. The other across or whole-of-government responses are a work in progress with no specific time line.

Senator SIEWERT—I will ask again in May. I want to ask specifically about 24 and 25, which were high priority recommendations about the flying fox. Where is the implementation of those two at? Recommendation 24 was about the cost-benefit analysis and need for a flying fox captive breeding program. As I understand it, you have recommended by December 2010. Recommendation 25 was about appropriate monitoring and targeted research.

Mr Cochrane—We have undertaken some of the targeted research that was recommended, particularly the disease assessment. We contracted Taronga Zoo, and they have been out on island and sampled a wide range of mammals and reptiles on the island for diseases. That work is still underway. But I think it is probably fair to say the preliminary conclusions from that work is that disease is probably not the major cause of the decline of the species we are worried about. But I would like to hedge that because that is not an easy conclusion to make conclusively.

Senator SIEWERT—So that would be picking up on recommendation 25 around the major threatening processes, I presume.

Mr Cochrane—That is correct, yes.

Senator SIEWERT—I take your qualification of that. If disease looks like it is not the key threatening process, what is or what work is being done to identify that?

Mr Cochrane—Well, as you would also be aware, there is a regional recovery plan, which is well advanced. Our aim is to pick up all of the threatening processes and species of concern in that regional recovery plan rather than as we have done in the past, as you know, the species by species approach.

Senator SIEWERT—Yes.

Mr Cochrane—In particular, when we are dealing with similar threats, and particularly the yellow crazy ant, it makes a lot more sense to try to deal with the ecosystem as a whole. It is easy to say that. Putting it into practice is a lot more complicated. I have recently asked about what is happening with the flying fox. It is actually quite difficult to survey. We do not have a good estimate of what the population numbers are because, unfortunately, they move around a lot. As you would know, the island is quite challenging in terms of doing survey work. So we have only anecdotal information about, if you like, the conservation status of the flying fox. It is quite important for us to get good numbers so that we know what we are dealing with.

Senator SIEWERT—I presume that means if you do not have an idea on numbers, the issue around whether we need a captive breeding program is a moot point until we know about numbers. Is that correct?

Mr Cochrane—Precisely. Although we are quite committed to not being in the same position as we were with the bat.

Senator SIEWERT—Well, you have just pre-empted my next question. I appreciate the difficulty. What is the time frame for getting an idea of numbers in order to make a decision as to whether we need a captive breeding program or not?

Mr Cochrane—We have certainly undertaken a number of consultations about what would be an appropriate technique to get hold of a reasonable population estimate. But we have not undertaken or been able to start that yet. In terms of a reasonable time line, our aim is to address all these issues, as I said, in the regional recovery plan. We need to get that completed this year. That will set priorities and key actions for us.

Senator SIEWERT—So the time line for the regional recovery plan is midyear or end of the year?

Mr Cochrane—I would have to come back to you on that specifically. You might ask this question, so I will go to the answer now. With our reptiles we have also contracted Taronga to help us with captive breeding of a number of reptile species. In the course of doing that, they have provided us with some very helpful advice, which is actually now feeding back into our drafting of the regional recovery plan. So we have had, if you like, some new ideas injected into that process which were not canvassed when we were doing the online island consultations around that. So that has opened up a few more issues for us. So I would hesitate to say when we are going to do that. What we want to make sure is that it is the best possible recovery plan for the island, not that it will be completed by a specific time.

Senator SIEWERT—You said that some of the issues have come up post doing the consultation. So does that mean that you may be doing another cycle of consultations?

Mr Cochrane—I am not sure that is necessary. The people that participate in the consultation process, I think, gave us a lot of very useful information and good feedback. What we have now done is tapped into new sources of expertise. So I would not commit to another round of consultation. I think we want to finish it.

Senator SIEWERT—I was not necessarily advocating that you should. I was trying to follow up. You said that it was post the consultation. I was just checking on what the process was from here.

Mr Cochrane—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—Thank you.

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