An aerial view of Clipperton Island. In the early 1900’s some 100 Mexican workers and their families lived here, receiving supplies from the Mexican government. But when supplies stopped arriving, a desperate struggle for survival broke out. (Photo www.clipperton.fr)
A small team of artists and scientists sailed off toward the remote Clipperton island today, in a rare, multidisciplinary expedition that will investigate the island’s dramatic history and how it has been affected by global warming
Currently uninhabited, Clipperton lies about 900 miles off the coast of Mexico, surrounded by the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Scientists say the tropical island provides an interesting example of how a terrestrial ecosystem survives in the middle of the ocean. It is also a thermometer of sorts for how global warming affects the planet.
“The Clipperton Project [as the expedition in known] aims to create a new kind of discourse and presentation of climate change, using Clipperton Island as a prism through which this broad theme can be seen,” project director Johnathan Bonfiglio, said during a press conference on Monday, before sailing off to Clipperton from the Mexican city of La Paz.
Bonfiglio said that participants in the expedition will collect data on different aspects of the island’s geographical make-up, and present their findings to the public later this year.
One of Clipperton’s main features is a lagoon at the center of the island that is only separated from the ocean by thin strips of land, but that inexplicably, contains drinkable water.
Some members of the expedition –which includes a sculptor, a sociologist and a writer- will also delve into Clipperton’s turbulent history, gathering insights on the unfortunate people who once inhabited this deserted island.
France, the U.S. and Mexico have laid claims to this territory over the past 200 years, coveting its vast reserves of bird poop or guano, which was used as fertilizer in the 19th century.
Mexico allowed a British company to develop the island’s reserves and by 1908 some 100 guano workers, Mexican soldiers and their families lived on Clipperton, receiving regular shiploads of supplies from the U.S.
By 1910 however the Guano project had proved to be unprofitable. The company abandoned its infrastructure and took its workers home.
Meanwhile, a garrison of Mexican soldiers and their families who stayed on the island struggled to survive, because the Mexican government (which was busy fighting the Mexican revolution) would not send supplies. Slowly but surely, island residents began to die off in a desperate struggle for survival.
By 1916, historians say there was only one man left on the island, Victoriano Alvarez, who shared the small Clipperton with 3 women and 8 kids.
In surreal fashion, Alvarez declared himself “king,” and abused of the women, but two of them eventually found a way to murder him in 1917, right before they were rescued by a U.S. ship.
In 1930, France took over the island and still holds it to this day. The French call it Passion Island or Ile de la Passion.