Today we are at Phoenix Island (aka Rawaki in Kiribati), the name sake for the entire archipelago. This is a place of birds. As we approached from a distance, the island looked like it had a small dark cloud hanging low over it, but when we got closer I could see the cloud was tens of thousands of squawking, screeching, hovering, darting, flapping, pecking birds. I could hear this cacophony of bird sound from inside the ship a ¼ mile away.
Then as we got even closer, the birds surrounded the boat and we had brown noddies hovering outside portholes, frigate birds gliding high above, impossibly delicate fairy terns making eye contact with me as they glided by, and the pungent smell of guano permeating the air.
Like the other small bird islands visited so far (McKean and Enderbury) we saw old coral walls and foundations from the days when people lived here and extracted the guano commercially, using it for fertilizer. But they are long gone and the last remnants of their presence is slowly being worn away by the wind and water of this tiny island, no more than a pile of coral rock in the heaving ocean. The birds have retaken it as the sole inhabitants. Read more >>
Gregory Stone is the Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans with Conservation International and PIPA Expedition Leader