Author shares the lives and loves of island creatures

Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton-born ecologist Chris Surman has launched his new book about the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
Camera IconGeraldton-born ecologist Chris Surman has launched his new book about the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. Credit: Chris Surman

A Geraldton-born ecologist and author has launched an illustrated introduction to the flora and fauna of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.

“I wanted to give a voice to all the natural history values of the Abrolhos,” Chris Surman said.

“There have been plenty of books written about shipwrecks and fishing, but nothing about the landscape, the animals, the plants or the corals.”

Dr Surman said the book focused on birds.

“I look at different communities of animals and how they interact,” he said.

“Because my bent is the marine environment, sea birds are very powerful tools to gather information on things like the Leeuwin Current and the way that behaves and the food it delivers.”

Dr Surman said the islands were Australian’s major sea bird breeding area.

“Significant numbers of three or four species are found nowhere else including the threatened Lesser Noddy which breeds on only three islands in the Pelsaert and Easter Group.”

His book, Houtman’s Abrolhos, a Natural History, has 380 colour photographs and 193 pages.

“There are details you won’t find in any other book, whether it be on birds, fish, corals or shells,” Dr Surman said.

He said he had reinterpreted a lot of information published in scientific papers and put it into “human terms”.

“Lesser Noddies, for example, live for at least 25 years, and will nest with the same partner at the same site,” Dr Surman said.

Lesser Noddy.
Camera IconLesser Noddy. Credit: Chris Surman

“They make a large investment and that can be related to us because we do something similar on a larger scale.” Interestingly, he said the baldchin groper could change sex.

“When the large males are taken out of a school, the next largest fish will change sex and become a dominant male,” he said. “But the reef goby will change sex just depending on who it bumps into.”

Dr Surman said all proceeds from book sales were used to fund his research as he was not employed by a university or government department.

The book is available from the Museum of Geraldton on Foreshore Drive.

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