Europa Island is just ten square miles, which sounds much bigger if you measure it in square kilometres instead: there are twenty-five of those. There are golf courses in Miami larger than this, and they don’t count as independent countries; there are Palestinian refugee camps even lager (sorry, that was genuinely a typing error for "larger", and the typo was in English, not in German), and they don’t count either. But Europa Island, or atoll really, between Madagascar and Mozambique, somehow does. Why is it French? Why are the Falkland Islands British or Burger King now based in Canada? It all has to do with imperialism, in this case of the political kind, and the desire to own anything you can benefit from, even if you have no obvious grounds for ownership. Madagascar has solid grounds for ownership, and has been arguing the case since 1897, but Madagascar isn’t as powerful as France, so it really doesn’t matter whose lunch it is, the big boy gets to eat it and the little boy can go crying home to mummy hungry, mummy in this instance being the disinterested United Nations. Why does France want it? Because where better for Jacques Cousteau to film his Undersea World. Because scientists like to come and look at the green sea turtles and the coral beaches and to spend their leisure time not bathing in the mangrove lagoon (mangrove lagoons are basically swamps; no one in their right minds would bathe there, not even French scientists). Presumably the French have long-term plans to use it for their nuclear tests, once they have blown up all the atolls in the Pacific which they are currently using. Or maybe, one day, who knows, they will have the gall (bad pun intended) to turn it into a tourist paradise, and kill off all the birds and mangroves and turtles in the process.
Conspiracy theorists may be interested in the fact that one of the icy moons of Jupiter is also named Europa, and when George Bush appointed a senior NASA executive to take charge of the entire universe (the nearest a human will ever get to playing God), he inexplicably excluded the icy moons of Jupiter from the brief. And now, even as I write, scientists in Monterey Bay are using an aquarium, whose underwater world bears remarkable similarity to that of Europa Island, to explore...but who can say explore for what as the whole enterprise is strictly hush-hush confidential and top secret? The removal of suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the icy moon of Europa perhaps? The opening of the first MacDonalds on Jupiter, using the icy moons for refrigeration? Pure scientific research? The latter seems the most plausible but, in our paranoid world, also the least likely.
Marks For: Lots, if you are a conservationist.
Marks Against: Lots, if you are a sea-turtle.
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