Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nauru, “The Country That Ate Itself” and How Phosphate Mining Has Led to Irreversible Environmental Damage.

The once tropical island paradise of Nauru, and the jagged desolate interior that has resulted due to the mining of phosphate.

The Island of Nauru is located in the Pacific Ocean, and its history has led it from once having the greatest per capita income in the world, to becoming a desolate wasteland, with high unemployment and with many of its inhabitants living in poverty. The reason for the limited economical success was due to the unusually high levels of phosphate found on the island, but the excavation of this mineral came at a great cost, both the economic collapse of the country, and the destruction of immense amounts of the whole island.

The Island of Nauru was initially covered in guano that had accumulated over centuries. Guano, the droppings by seabirds which when mixed with decaying microorganisms from the ocean floor, and with the natural coral and limestone that formed the island, made for the richest and purest source of phosphate in the world, which was primarily used in fertilizer. Once the country had achieved its relative independence, it began to voraciously mine any amount of the resource that was available.

This large amount of phosphate mining savaged the paradisiacal island of Nauru and now 80% of the island is now a barren wasteland, with the island’s residents living on a small strip along the coast. The inhabitants have to import most of their food as agriculture is not possible on the land stripped of top-soil. The phosphate began to run out in the early 1990’s and any money that had accumulated had mostly all gone, and the interior of the island (where the phosphate was located) had turned into an ecological nightmare, a desolate wasteland of jagged coral sticking up as high as 75 feet. It was the effective destruction of the country’s single natural resource, mass areas of environment and vegetation and the country itself.

As a testament to the outcome of the island, when a group of refugees sought for permission to land in Australia, the hard line anti-immigration government of the time refused to allow them. After weeks of the refugees living on the ship they had travelled on, it was decided that they should be moved to nearby Nauru, which was to be used as a refugee camp. Upon seeing their desolate new island “home” the refugees demanded “to stay on board rather then be offloaded into the desolate wasteland” that had become of the once beautiful tropical island of Nauru.

Weir, Stephen. Historys worst decisions and the people who made them. Millers Point, N.S.W: Pier 9, 2005.

The Physical Destruction of Nauru: An Example of Weak SustainabilityJohn M. Gowdy, Carl N. McDaniel Land Economics Vol. 75, No. 2 (May, 1999), pp. 333-338

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL:

1 comment:

Sergio J said...

degenerate island...