Archive for February, 2006

The threatened Galapagos

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

The battle to save the Galapagos from goats, dogs, pigs, cats, donkeys, plants, insects, and humans.  Only 5% of the islands’ species have gone extinct since the Galapagos were discovered, but many are now threatenedand conservationists say they are losing the fight on inhabited islands in the group.

Risk your life, get $100

Monday, February 27th, 2006

I won the geoquiz today. This was the crucial clue:

This somewhat unusual body of land has many striking features, not the least of which are its two massive (and somewhat scary) cloud-covered volcanoes.

The answer was Isla Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua, and it helped that Ometepe is one of my favorite islands among the 311 that I’ve visited.

I had to go: Concepcion Volcano makes Ometepe the tallest lake island on the planet, rising a vertical mile above the lake.  Most of this rise is accomplished in a horizontal mile and a half, so it was indeed a scary climb, up fresh rockslide chutes and into the clouds, then on all fours up ash slopes until the ground suddenly dropped away into a crater emanating heat.

Starting your own island country

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

“Let’s blow this fascist popsicle stand! Purchase a small island somewhere, and start our own country.” – Montgomery Burns

People thinking about forming their own nation often turn to islands: they appeal to people’s sense of dominion, and their borders are clear. One just might get away from it all, and start something new.

But a new island country requires an island, and citizens, and there difficulties begin.


Four problems are paramount:

  1. There are no undiscovered or unclaimed islands—with one partial exception.
  2. Existing countries are quite protective of their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  3. There is no recognized process for forming your own country, and it comes essentially down to power.
  4. It is difficult to obtain a population for a startup country.

Solutions….and more problems

People have tried to get around these problems in a variety of ways.

Problem 1: No undiscovered islands

  • Since existing islands are claimed, some conclude that they should just build new ones.
  • However, it is quite difficult to find suitable places that do not fall under some kind of national jurisdiction. If you are making your own land, it has to be outside countries’ territorial waters (generally 12 miles offshore) and exclusive economic zones (generally 200 miles from land)—and there is little or no shallow water outside of such zones. For instance, the would-be Principality of New Utopia is planned for the Misteriosa Bank in the Caribbean—but it seems to be in the Exclusive Economic Zones of both Honduras and the Cayman Islands (UK). Both countries have signed the Law of the Sea Treaty, which gives them power to regulate new island creation.
  • The partial exception to the dearth of unclaimed territory is Antarctica, which is essentially international, with nations’ territorial claims effectively suspended. But the continent is supervised by all the most powerful countries on the planet, and they would not let a startup country grab some of it.
  • (There is a cheat to the land problem, in the eyes of the island purist: build a floating island city—there are several schemes kicking around. But these would be mere ships, in truth. And there is the oil rig solution, notably represented by “Sealand”, a surplus-gun-platform “country” off the coast of England.)

Problem 2: Existing countries want their islands

  • You can buy islands in many countries, but that means that you are a landowner, not a separate country.
  • While most countries will not surrender sovereignty over a piece of land, it might be possible to find one so poor or corrupt that it would do so. Some right-wing Americans thought Haiti fit the bill a couple of decades ago, and attempted to buy the Île de la Tortue (Tortuga Island) off the northern coast. They were going to form the usual libertarian paradise, but even Haiti proved insufficiently abject to fall for the scheme. (The fate of thousands of Haitians already living on the island was unclear.)
  • You can try to take an island by force, but fortunately for the small states of the Pacific and the Caribbean there are powerful countries that prevent that sort of thing.

Problem 3: No process for forming new countries

  • The best solution is to become a leader in an island that might like to break away from its country: Nevis, of St. Kitts-Nevis, for instance. The separate islands of the Comoros have each achieved substantial autonomy under their own leaders in recent years. And East Timor has made the transition to sovereign nation.
  • You still need recognition from the international community. And that requires sympathy, triggered by oppression of your little island, or at least popular support for its breaking away.
  • Barring that, you can try to seize an island nation whole. This has been attempted by mercenaries in the Comoros (with some success), Vanuatu, and the Maldives. Once again, it runs into the problem of great power protectors.

Problem 4: Need for citizens

  • The breakaway inhabited island solves this problem, but otherwise you have to convince people to come live on your island.
  • Build-your-own-island schemes typically dangle libertarian freedom as their lure.
  • Forming your own cult has its advantages. A rogue Mormon sect in the mid-19th century took this route, briefly declaring Beaver Island in Lake Michigan to be their kingdom. But cults tend to be unstable and draw the attention of authorities quickly.

So starting your own island country is not easy. As a consolation, you might buy one of the many uninhabited islands in a tolerant country such as the US, Britain, or Canada and declare your own nation. We’ll enjoy seeing what you get away with.

For additional details after February 2006, see this document at the master WorldIslandInfo site.

Congolese flee to floating islands

Friday, February 24th, 2006

UN officials report that

people have taken refuge on islands formed by clumps of papyrus plants floating on lakes in Katanga’s Upemba National Park. “In and around Upemba, there are thousands of people living on floating islands because it is the only place they feel safe.”

This resort to “islands” is reminiscent of the prehistoric British Isles, where people built artificial islands called crannogs to hole up safely.

(Floating islands are not true islands, of course, and instead resemble natural ships. See Chet Van Duzer’s Floating Islands for more information.)

Buy an island. Or maybe not.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

A Powerball winner is not leaping at the chance, according to USA Today:

“Everybody has dreams. Ever bought a lottery ticket? You talk about it, ‘Hey, what are you going to do?’ Buy an island. Buy an airplane. In reality, I’m not really a fan of flying, and I don’t like water,”

Invasion of the rats

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Rats have reappeared on Ulva Island, a biologically important island cleared of the invasive species in 1996.

Rats and other pests have decimated New Zealand’s endemic creatures, and offshore refuges such as Ulva are crucial to their survival.

Bridge and tunnel to Chongming Dao, Shanghai

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

A bridge and tunnel are planned for Chongming, the large Yangtze River island north of Shanghai.

This would transfer another 700,000 or so people from the world’s unbridged island population.  Until then, Chongming may be the most populous unbridged river island in the world.

Island-hopping in the Caribbean

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

For those not satisfied with one island, how to hop between Caribbean islands.

Filming on Socotra, Yemen

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Rare news from Socotra, the Yemeni island south of the Arabian peninsula.  The island is millions of years old, allowing time for many endemic species to evolve.

Dok-to / Takeshima

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Two Korean senior citizens will resume their existence as the sole civilians on the disputed group of islets in the Sea of Japan after a 10 year absence. A poet is supposed to join them in the spring.

The practice of sending someone to live on disputed small islands is partially an assertion of their island status: an attempt to prove that they are places rather than things, islands not rocks.