Changing Planet

Island Life

Christian Jost and Paul Rose on the beach at Clipperton Island. Photo by Jon Betz.
Christian Jost and Paul Rose on the beach at Clipperton Island. Photo by Jon Betz.

The great man Christian Jost has been camping alone on Clipperton Island for the past four nights. Not entirely alone – he’s had about 100,000 masked boobies, 7,000 brown boobies, 500 red – footed boobies, 1,500 frigate birds, 1million crabs, 2,000 rats, the rusting remains of the guano (bird poop) industry, a mysterious algae and bacteria filled lagoon, 900 coconut palms and a French flagpole for company.

The birds here know that Christian is the recognized authority of the island and, to show their respect, they have used Christian’s little blue tent as the poop target. When I arrived at his camp this morning, the previously blue tent was white, and the water container, food box, rucksacks, tripod and science gear were happily splattered the same.

All that splattering made for a noisy time in the tent – but lack of sleep didn’t stop the research. Christian is a Geographer and has completed his counting of species, the survey of the atoll, recorded all coastal changes and has even measured how much dust is being blown here from the American continent.

Christian has a comprehensive science report to complete and of course he needs to eat a good Argo dinner and catch up on some sleep. But first – and we are all very thankful for this, he has cleaned all of his camping gear, had a shower and is wearing non pooped-on clothes. Welcome back “Monsieur Clipperton”!

Dive Newsflash: 

The sub team reported over 50 Hammerhead sharks on the dive this afternoon and Alan Friedlander, our Chief Scientist, was chased off the bottom by a moray eel that would not let go of his fins!

Paul Rose is an ardent explorer, television presenter, journalist, author, and Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society, and an Expedition Leader on the Pristine Seas team.
  • Eric Chevreuil

    The current dynamic between the species is as follow: Rats feed on crabs and the crab population has dramatically fallen in the past 5 years. The crabs do not feed on and therefore control the vegetation that has doubled in a few year and in some places of the ring cover it from the sea line to the lagoon. All these bobbies do not like grass and just nest on bare coral….the vegetation is taking away from their nesting area and chasing them. New smaller birds that nest under bushes -noddis- are taking over…species are competing and things are changing but the trigger is not a natural local specie: it is an invasive specie: the rattus rattus, introduced by the negligence of humans.

  • Eric Chevreuil

    Sharks of Clipperton: Conrad Limbaugh was the American Cousteau and documented the sea predators for the Scribbs institution in the 50ies. Sharks were so numerous and aggressive on Clipperton that he invended the diving cage and published a book on survival in shark infested waters. Cousteau also documented masses of hammerhead sharks in 1980….suddenly, schools of hammerhead would obscure the light for divers dwelling on the bottom….after that the decline….mostly attributed to volunteer catch (hammerheads have bigger fins than regular reef sharks) or collateral catches from purse seiners.

  • Eric Chevreuil

    From 1860 to 1917, Clipperton was the object of “discovery and rediscovery” by various characters and countries. Phosphate, added to fertilizers alloed the doubling of crops and pushed America to write the Guano Act that allowed any US citizen to seize and claim for America any unoccupied “guano rock”, bird island. A Phosphate company from San Francisco finally got Clipperton’s right and from the mid 1880 started to occupy the island and develop its guano operations. Buildings, a peer, a minin rail road, lodging…were built. The first palm trees introduced for coconuts…and 2 pigs. Italian, Germans, Hawaiians and even Japanese lived, worked and some died there. Ships made it back and forth to San Francisco. In 1898, Mexico realized the financial potential and claimed it, and sent a military party. US miners were taken out. The san Fran company sold the right to a British company that cut a deal with Mexico and a military party with wives and children, led by a governor was installed on the island. From 1905 to 1915 they lived there, piling up guano that went nowhere. Another revolution happened and no supplies came from the homeland anymore. Men died from scurvy, sacrificing themselves for the women and kids that had the few weekly coconuts. In 1917, a Us navy ship looking for German submarine saw some smoke, landed a party and saved the few women and children that had survived alone there…
    All this for bird poop!

  • eric chevreuil

    Guano: from the mid 1800 to 1917, there was a “guano rush” on Clipperton. Phosphate used in fertilizer allow the doubling of crops and the America Guano act was passed by congress allowing any US citizen to annex any “guano rock” or bird island that was uninhabited regardless of the country that claimed it. Clipperton was allegedly re-discovered again as early as the 1850 and eventually a san Francisco based phosphate company bought the claims from individuals and set up shop on the atoll. a Guano mining infrastructure was built on the atoll, including lodging, warehousing, a narrow gauge mining railroad for mining carts, 2 palm trees on planters to protect them from crabs and 2 regular pigs. A warf was built. Europeans, Japanese and Hawaiian workers took turn there, even died, to “collect” the guano -bird poop- and tons were regularly shipped to San Francisco. despite the Guano Act, the US kept on recognizing Clipperton as French but in 1898, Mexico “discovered” the potential wealth of poop gold and send a Navy ship to seize the atoll and forcibly evacuate 3 guano miners that were there.
    The san Fran guano company sold its rights to a British company that cut a deal with the Mexican government. A military garrison -with wives, children and a governor- was installed on Clipperton in 1905 and a light house erected on the rock. They piled up guano but none ever left the atoll and after a few mainland revolution, the garrison was literally abandoned. Men sacrificed themselves reserving the few weekly coconuts fro the women and children. Men died of scurvy. In 1917, a US navy ship patrolling the area for German submarines -WWI- found the survivors -women and children, most born on the atoll- and evacuated them to the mainland. The guano rush was over.

  • Robert Pitman

    Will you get an opportunity to census the Masked Boobies while you are there? Should only take a few hrs with 3-4 people walking around the island in a phalanx, as close to dusk as possible (birds come into spend the night). Good luck!

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