In 2020, ACNA was excited to win a national tender to provide assessments and support to the Indian Ocean Territories Health Services (IOTHS). The IOTHS is a stand-alone health service which is responsible for the delivery of hospital, outpatient and community-based health and dental services in the Indian Ocean Territories. This includes the communities of the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Christmas Island is a four hour flight off the coast of Perth and just over four hours from Perth to the Cocos Islands.

After much planning and preparation, a group of ACNA assessors travelled to Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands in November 2020. A second trip was made in September last year, and a third is planned to Christmas Island in March 2022.

Travelling between November and February is avoided due to it being cyclone season, and there is another good reason why the trips are no longer conducted in November – crabs!

Christmas Island’s famous red crab population is reportedly increasing, with millions of the creatures wreaking havoc for local people. According to a 2021 survey on adult crab numbers, there has been a dramatic, almost four-fold increase in recent years. Whilst the crabs’ population has been stable for the past couple of decades at around 40 to 50 million, there are now estimated to be around 190 million adult crabs on land.

The main reason for the increase is put down to large returns from the annual red crab migration in recent years. Control measures to eradicate the island’s population of yellow crazy ants – the enemy of red crabs – have also been working. This has helped the baby crabs to survive and grow into adults. Since crazy ants reached the island in the 1990’s, they have killed millions of red crabs by blinding and immobilising them with their acidic spray.

The ACNA assessors’ trip in 2020 coincided with the crabs’ migration in early November, after the first rains of the wet season. The main access roads to the island were covered with seas of red, which prevented travel and made it difficult to conduct assessments.

Communication was also a challenge for the assessors as most of their clients did not speak English.   They relied on an interpreter to work with them and complement their non-verbal language.

Despite the challenges, it was a rewarding experience and a valuable learning opportunity. ACNA staff are looking forward to visiting Christmas Island again in March this year, hopefully minus the crabs and crazy ants.