You may not have heard of it before, but located 60 kilometres off the north-west coast of Western Australia, Barrow Island is one of the most important conservation reserves in the region. The island itself is around 25 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, and the arid landscape is mainly dominated by spinifex grasslands.
Around 2,800 species have been recorded on Barrow, including 24 species and subspecies found nowhere else on Earth. Thanks to a world renowned Quarantine Management System to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species and diseases to the island, some rare species are able to thrive here, despite having been driven to extinction on the mainland.
The burrowing bettong or ‘boodie’ no longer exists on mainland Australia, and until recently was only found on three islands off the coast of Western Australia including Barrow. The only burrowing member of the kangaroo family, this nocturnal marsupial lives in small groups in an underground burrow or warren which may have just a single entrance, or up to 100! Other marsupials found on Barrow Island include the golden bandicoot, the black-footed rock-wallaby and the Barrow Island euro, a subspecies of the common wallaroo.
Birds on Barrow
Designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, 119 bird species have been recorded on Barrow. The island supports a large number of migratory shorebirds including pied oystercatchers and fairy terns, as well as raptors such as the brahminy kite and osprey. Other species commonly seen here include an endemic subspecies of the white-winged fairy wren and the spinifexbird, the most abundant bird on the island, which thrives in the spinifex grasslands.
The predatory perentie
The second largest lizard in the world after the Komodo dragon, the perentie is the top predator on Barrow Island. Prey is easily tracked as the perentie has extremely good eyesight and uses its long tongue to pick up chemical signals in the air. Like other monitor species, the perentie is able to run extremely fast over great distances, reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour, about the same speed as an Olympic sprinter! Once caught, prey is shaken violently until dead, and then swallowed whole.
An unusual amphibian
Only one species of frog is found on Barrow Island, a desert burrowing frog called Main’s frog. Only seen at the surface during the summer wet season, Main’s frog is able to survive in this arid habitat by spending the rest of the year underground in a state of torpor, retaining water inside its body by sealing itself inside a cocoon. It emerges to breed following heavy rains, with the female laying up to 1,000 eggs into temporary pools of water.
Important sea turtle rookeries are found on the shores of Barrow Island, with green turtles and flatback turtles coming ashore to nest between November and February. Undertaking tremendous feats of navigation, an adult green turtle returns to the same beach to breed each season, and some populations of green turtle migrate thousands of kilometres to feed and breed. We have recently developed a brand new Turtle Life Cycle education module to teach students aged 7-11 about the lives of these incredible turtles.
Natural resources on Barrow
As well as being an area of great conservation importance, Barrow Island is also Australia’s largest operating onshore oilfield. More than 300 million barrels of oil have been produced on Barrow Island since 1964, with strict environmental, safety and health standards and procedures having been put in place in order to safeguard the environment and minimise the impact on the island ecosystem.
Find out more about Barrow Island
Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher