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Author Archives: Geoff Edwards

Bee survey 2022

The honey bee population on Norfolk Island is unique from a pest and disease perspective. No other honey bee population in the world has fewer pests and pathogens. This important finding was confirmed in 2022 by a survey by Dr John Roberts of CSIRO. The report recommended that ongoing surveillance in Norfolk Island as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program be resourced. Read the report here. The report can also be found on the Department’s website: Norfolk Island bee pest survey 2021–2022. The Department has summarised the results as follows:


“Honey bees are an important part of the ecosystem and culture of Norfolk Island. Honey bees support food security through reliable pollination services as well as producing honey and hive products. Having access to up-to-date information on bee pests and diseases is critical to maintaining the Island’s bee biosecurity.

In December 2022 and April 2023, Dr John Roberts visited Norfolk Island to conduct surveys of the honey bee population. Under the guidance of Norfolk Island’s beekeepers, Dr Roberts collected samples from bees, honey and hives to test for pests and diseases. He sampled 67 bee colonies (approximately 50% of all managed colonies) and inspected and tested for 16 pests and diseases.

The key findings of the survey are:

  • Since the last 2012–14 survey, no new honey bee pests or diseases were detected in Norfolk Island honey bees.
  • All previously reported pests and diseases were detected, including
    • high prevalence and infection levels of the gut parasite, Nosema ceranae
    • high prevalence of Lake Sinai virus, a common bee virus group with no known disease
    • low detection of the lesser wax moth (Achroia gresella), a minor hive pest.
  • The honey bee population on Norfolk Island is unique from a pest and disease perspective. No other honey bee population in the world has fewer pests and pathogens.

The report made three recommendations:

  • Permit only commercial importation of certified irradiated honey into Norfolk Island.
  • Resource ongoing surveillance in Norfolk Island as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program.
  • Registration for all Norfolk Island beekeepers and encouraging beekeepers to perform regular hive inspections in line with Australia’s Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice.


The Conservation of Norfolk Island

In 1968, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia’s peak environmental community organisation, published a 50-page booklet, The Conservation of Norfolk Island (4.5 MB). The booklet was reprinted in 1969 and 1975. The PDF file has been optimised for web use. A scanned version with greater resolution is available (111 MB).

Along with justification for an ethic of conservation, the report includes descriptions of local areas, recommendations about conservation and appendices with lists of the species of plants and animals.

The eucalypts

Many species of eucalypts have been planted on Norf’k, mainly scattered through the residential portions, except that there are some healthy stands of eucalypts (planted for future timber supply) within what is now the National Park, in the Anson Bay locality:

Eucalyptus microcorys    – Tallowwood

Eucalyptus paniculata     – Grey Ironbark

Eucalyptus maculata       – Spotted Gum

Eucalyptus pilularis         – Blackbutt

Eucalyptus grandis         – Flooded Gum

Eucalyptus acmenoides  – White Mahogany

Eucalyptus cloeziana      – Gympie Messmate

Eucalyptus fibrosa          – Broad-leaved Red Ironbark

Eucalyptus botryoides    – Bangalay, Southern Mahogany.

There is evidence that eucalypts have self-seeded on a couple of private properties but they have not become a recognised pest on the Island, even though they have done so in other countries such as California. Part of the reason may well be that ants carry off most of the seed, as they do in Australia (as much as 99% of seed fall).

Quarantine (pests and diseases) Survey 2012-14

In 2012-2014 the Department of Agriculture conducted a comprehensive survey of the plant and animal pests and diseases of the Island, coordinated by resident Glynn Maynard. The report is publicly available.

Supporting data

The data amassed during the survey have been published open access as appendices to the following paper:

Maynard, G V, B J Leschi and S F Malfroy. 2018. “Norfolk island quarantine survey 2012-2014 – a comprehensive assessment of an isolated subtropical island“. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales Vol. 140: 7-243.


A Short History of Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island’s natural history has been deeply affected by its human history.


When James Cook came by in 1774 on his second round-the-world voyage of discovery, he found Norfolk Island had been previously occupied by unidentified Polynesian people whose arrival is estimated to have been around 800-1000 years ago. Stone tools and other man-made objects have been found across the island, but the duration or numbers of their population remain unknown.

The period of occupation has been estimated by dating bones of the Pacific Rat Rattus exulans, which arrived in a similar time frame in New Zealand, where it is known as kiore. These rats were commonly transported in Polynesian migrating canoes, and believed to have been released on oceanic islands to breed and provide a plentiful food supply.

The Pacific Rats were the first known of many of man’s great impacts on Norfolk Island’s fragile environment; their presence in the fossils taking the place of the two lizard species that once existed here, but could not survive in the presence of rats. These reptiles are now found on the offshore islands in the Norfolk group, and also at the Lord Howe Island group, about halfway between Norfolk and the mainland of Australia.



1788: Two species of Norfolk Island lizards, a skink Leiolopisma lichenigerum and a gecko Phylodactylus guentheri were already extinct on Norfolk Island prior to the first European settlement, due to the introduction of the Pacific Rat 600-800 years earlier by Polynesian travellers. Fortunately populations remain on the offshore islands, which are to date free from rodents. (Successful restoration of the Norfolk Island ecology will include their reintroduction into a predator-free environment.)


British Settlement
The British flag was raised in New South Wales on 27 January in 1788, marking the colonisation of that country, and it was only weeks later that a further settlement was established under that flag on tiny Norfolk Island. The first group of settlers, only 29 of them, were to arrive here on 28 February, but were unable to land until 6 March. They had been set the task of establishing a community to harvest and process flax Phormium tenax and the Norfolk Island Pine Araucaria heterophylla which Cook had recommended as being useful for ship building purposes in the fledgling antipodean settlements. A great deal of land was cleared and many of the oldest, biggest pines removed in that era.

The island was again deserted in 1814 when the entire population was removed to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), giving rise to the place names there of New Norfolk and the Norfolk Plains. During the time between that and the following settlement it is estimated that the few pigs that had been uncatchable bred to around 14,000. Any ground nesting birds, or other animals would have been decimated if not completely removed during that time.



1800: The Norfolk Island Ground Dove Gallicolumba norfolciensis, extinct due to hunting by humans and predation by cats.


A Prison Island

In 1825 the empty island was recolonised by the British and the entire island used as a prison to relieve pressure on the British gaols and the overpopulated prison hulks on the Thames. With up to 2000 prisoners and the military and civilian staff required to manage them, many areas were cleared for farming to keep the island self-sufficient. It was during this period that the majority of the convict-built settlement of Kingston was established, an area that today is renowned as the most impressive collection of Colonial Georgian architecture, and which was honoured with World Heritage status in 2007. This settlement also was abandoned, in 1855.


1851: The last known Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productus died in captivity in England.


Resettlement of the Pitcairn Island population

When the infamous mutiny on HMAV Bounty took place in 1789, the British sailors who sent Captain William Bligh into expected oblivion in a longboat returned to Tahiti. After many adventures and relocations, eventually they ended up occupying a small, remote, almost unknown uninhabited island, with their Tahitian wives. The population eventually grew too large for little Pitcairn and the entire population was removed with the assistance of Queen Victoria, who had pardoned them of their fathers’ sins and agreed to their appeal for a new and larger home.

More land clearing occurred as the new community of Norfolk Islanders set to work establishing farms to keep themselves fed and to produce exports from the fertile island. This population is the basis of the current day community.



1900: The last recorded sighting of the Norfolk Island Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae spadicea.

1923: The endemic fruit-eating Norfolk Island Starling Aplonis fusca was last seen.


World War II
Following WW II there were many changes on the island, one of which was a large swathe having been cut through native habitat to make way for the first aerodrome. The island was used as an aircraft station during the war, bringing aircraft landing and refuelling facilities closer to conflicts in the Coral Sea, which had previously been flying forays from New Zealand


1970: A recently dead Norfolk Island Triller Lalage leucopyga, found near Mt Bates, was the last of this species to be seen.

1975: Norfolk Island Grey-headed Blackbird Turdus poliocephalus last seen. (It is possible that the genes of the Norfolk Island Grey-headed Blackbird are surviving in the population of hybrid European Blackbirds now found across the island. Selective breeding may allow the species to be substantially reinstated).

1989: The last reported sighting in Norfolk Island of either of the Norfolk Island bats. Neither Chalinolobus gouldii nor the endemic Tadarida norfolkensis have been seen since this sighting.

1995: ‘Miamiti’, the last Norfolk Island Morepork Ninox novazelandiae undulata sighted for the final time. But there is a supplementary story here…