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Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Island of Ignorance


A blog entry of September 27, 2005 reads:

"The Campaign to Defend the Constitution will release a letter on Thursday to all fifty governors signed by Nobel laureates, other leading scientists and scores of clergy, calling on the states to ensure that science classes teach evolution and base curricula on established science, not ideology.

"The Campaign will also release a report highlighting the top ten "Islands of Ignorance" around the country where science education is under attack."

I invite these Leading Scientists to explain to me, if they can, the present proliferation of biodiversity on Navassa Island, located between Haiti and Jamaica. Neglected for centuries after its discovery, Navassa Island was claimed as United States Territory in 1857 by sea captain and phosphate prospector Peter Duncan. For the next forty years, the islands' natural resources were plundered by the Navassa Phosphate Company of Baltimore. Negro miners who were housed, fed, and paid under conditions little better than slavery used pickaxes and dynamite to wrest huge deposits of petrified bird droppings from the island's surface. Then, the mines were abandoned due to the Spanish-American War's disruption of surface traffic. Other than lighthouse keepers and wartime observers, Navassa was to be once again free of resident human contamination.

One hundred years later, an ecological survey of Navassa Island was undertaken under the auspices of the US Department of the Interior, and the scientists on the team found Navassa to be nothing like the ecological wasteland they expected. The island teems with life, from the surrounding reefs to the top of the upper plateau. This expedition

"Yielded the discovery of 250 animal and plants species. They found 15 endemic species, including two lizards. . . previously thought to be extinct. 'We never dreamed that on a single visit the team would so greatly increase our knowledge of the number of species,' said Roger McManus, president of the center. 'Uninhabited islands like Navassa are the very best chance we have to understand and protect the diversity of life in the Caribbean.'"

Now, bearing in mind that this island had been plundered for forty years running, read how the media described it a hundred years after it had been turned back to nature:
WASHINGTON Aug. 14 (States) -- Attention divers! Are you looking for uncrowded, unspoiled coral reefs with a rainbow of vibrant colors alive with a diversity of plant and animal life?

A team of scientists from the Center for Marine Conservation has found such a place in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, between Haiti and Jamaica.

But there's a catch. The reefs surrounding tiny, uninhabited Navassa Island, two square miles of rocky terrain pockmarked by years of mining operations, are so pristine that U.S. officials are determined to limit public access, lest the destruction of sensitive reefs in other parts of the region and elsewhere be repeated.

Bear in mind that these "unspoiled coral reefs" are only a few hours by boat from Haiti, and have been continually fished by Haitians throughout the century that Navassa's mines have been abandoned.

Speaking of Haiti, that nation has continued to press its claim to Navassa since 1858, and even incorporates that claim into its 1987 constitution. Navassa is the only piece of disputed territory under the control of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which since taking control in 1996 has declined to issue permits for anyone to visit the island (now a National Wildlife Refuge) for any private purpose whatsoever--despite competing bids from Americans and Hatians to put the phosphate mines back into production.

Protecting a Pristine Paradise? Only a pseudoscientist would say so.

Back to the original question. How is sealing off Navassa Island (less its coral reefs, which continue to be plundered by hungry Haitians) going to protect the endangered species thriving thereon, when 40 years of strip mining did nothing to eliminate them?

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