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Greg Hunt MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
15 December 2005
The Australian Government is examining the feasibility of establishing an international scientific research centre on Christmas Island, Greg Hunt MP, Parliamentary Secretary with Ministerial responsibility for Christmas Island National Park announced today.
"This remote Indian Ocean island, 2500 kilometres west of Darwin, is an ideal site for tropical environmental research and that is why we have plans to engage a team of international consultants to assess the idea," Mr Hunt said.
"Christmas Island has a unique rainforest ecosystem that supports more than 240 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world."
"It is also home to the largest and most diverse land crab community in the world. Christmas Island is gaining a reputation as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean."
Australian and international science institutions have already expressed interest in having a long term research presence on Christmas Island, Mr Hunt said.
"These institutions are interested in funding substantial research projects - they simply need a facility on the island to work from. The former administrator's residence, Tai Jin House (also known as Government House), is now vacant and would make an ideal base.
"An international research centre could generate for Christmas Island a permanent, sustainable small industry based on exporting research opportunities. There's also the prospect of an eco-tourism industry based around the scientists' research activities and the island's ecology.
"With an area of 135 square kilometres it is an ideal size for a complete ecosystem study of island biodiversity- a rare opportunity anywhere in the world for this extremely important branch of ecology.
"Perhaps most importantly, the research would build on the current knowledge base for biodiversity conservation of Christmas Island National Park and help us address current threats," Mr Hunt said.
The feasibility study will examine models for the structure of the proposed centre, and evaluate the investment potential of international participants. Stage 1 is expected to be completed by January 2006.
An expert in the financing and legal mechanisms best suited to international research institutions, Mr Barry Spergel, will carry out the study. Mr Spergel has established a wide range of conservation trust funds and foundations in the USA, Galapagos, Suriname, British Columbia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, and is regarded as the world's leading expert in his field.
Kristy McSweeney (Mr Hunt's office) 0415 740 722 - 02 6277 2276
Christmas Island (15-19 December) 08 9164 8055 ( Images are available)