Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jarvis Island

Jarvis Island was discovered by a British sea captain named Brown, first name unknown, on August 21st 1821; his ship was the Eliza Frances, and it was owned by Edward, Thomas and William Jarvis, for whom he named what was not really an island at all, and certainly not a habitable one, but simply a coral atoll one and three-quarter square miles large, located midway between Hawaii and the Cook islands in the south Pacific, and with its lagoon dry. 

Named but then ignored by the British, it was annexed by the US in 1858 under the terms of the Guano Islands Act, which allowed any US citizen to lay claim to any uninhabited island if guano, which is to say bird-droppings, could then be excavated - guano was much-used as a natural fertiliser, before the American chemicals industry found cheaper ways to make it artificially. For twenty-one years guano was assiduously gathered, and transported back to the US, but after twenty-one years so many tons of guano had been gluttishly removed that there just wasn't enough profit in it any longer. The UK annexed the island back again in 1889, unaware how far the guano stocks had been depleted, and then the US re-occupied and reclaimed the island in 1935, for no obvious reason except they could, which is standard American behaviour of course. They did talk about building a weather station and even thought about a landing field for airplanes, and established a kind of settlement, called Millersville, on the west coast, the point with the highest elevation, but then the Japanese shelled the island and the theoretical settlers took advantage of the pretext to claim that this was why they abandoned their pioneering aspirations - the truth is, they fled.The island was declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974. 

See also Baker Island, Howland Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, which together make up the United States Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). They are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior. A second set of Pacific Islands, including parts of Hawaii and Midway Island, are known as the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and are also designated as part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. These remote refuges, according to their own publicity, are the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction - though why that jurisdiction is American is one of the questions that has come to dominate this blog. The refuges sustain many endemic species, including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere. Given how much damage America manages to do to the planet, and its human inhabitants, everywhere else, can we at least be grateful for this one redeeming grace, which appears to be completely ingenuous and actively sincere?

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