Pop Up Isles, Sinking Atolls &
Havens for Snakes, Cats & Spiders
An unforeseen consequence of rising sea levels is that it puts a dump on that idyllic idea of retiring to a tropical island. Somehow the thought of waking up at its highest peak, with just enough time to hold your breath doesn’t have the same ring that it once had.
It’s a silly dream anyway. So when a 7.7 earthquake shook Pakistan last week, leaving over 500 dead and thousands homeless, in a nation already periodically visited by tragedy, only a heartless optimist would see the birth of a new island as a silver lining of sorts.
And yet, there it is, a 100 feet by 250 feet speck that’s now dotting the Arabian Sea. A rough, cracked piece of the ocean floor, pushed up by methane to 60 feet up above water. Almost like a natural monument and tribute for those who had to go for it to rise up so violently.
As you probably gathered by now, that’s our theme for this evening: islands, those mysterious orphans of continental drifts, giants underwater, tall enough to reach high above the waves, and yet frightfully tiny, once at the surface, always at ready to be swallowed by the vastness around.
They’ve been a surprising copious leit motif at Colltales, having graced these pages half a dozen times in less than three years. Perhaps its their endless diversity, or often violent origins, what pulls us towards them. Or that they can be placid and inhabited only by bugs and animals, or rather powerful, occupied by the wealthy and the influential.
Regardless of how well to do they are, or how devoid of distinguished features they may be, either at the thick of trade and politics or so out of the way that not even Somalian pirates would want to shipwreck there, they all face the same ominous threat: climate change, rising tides, rapid demise.
RISE & SHINE & FLOOD & DROWN
The new ground is far from being the first to come out of an earthquake, or volcano for that matter, and there’s a 50-50 chance it won’t last either. Another temblor can bring it all down to where it came from, or even the next moonsoon may overtake it. Thus it’s unlikely that it’ll have time to carve any lasting impressions.
That’s not the case of Pacific Islands already facing the galloping risks of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and their nefarious effect of trapping glacier-melting heat. In fact, part of the Midway Atoll and Laysan Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is already going under, literally.
The Micronesian nation sitting atop the Marshall Islands, another paradisiacal archipelago in the Pacific, may become the first country to have all its 60 thousand citizens be evacuated. It’s currently pursuing a way out of its predicament, even using its U.N. seat as a bargain chip, to remain sovereign in case it completely loses its ancient land.
Others may not be missed. The extravagant 300 man-made islands, built in Dubai’s shallow coast waters and unironically called ‘The World,’ may wind up at the bottom of the sea, despite billions of dollars poured in by its developer, Nakheel. Which may not be able to help it anyway, since it’s also sinking under a pile of lawsuits.
May the same never happen to another ancient, and tiny, piece of land, sitting atop rough seas: our beloved Isle of Coll, the place we call ‘the island in the middle of our last name,’ which continues to lure us from afar, to come and rest our weary feet. But since that too is another silly dream of leaving it all behind and such, it may never happen.
SNAKES & SPIDERS ON THE BEACH
Talking about evacuation plans, there are thousands of abandoned islands throughout the globe, big and small. Some which were once heavily populated, are now floating ruins, their forgotten humans having been chased out by plagues, economic factors, and even nuclear radiation. They now sit silently enduring their oblivion.
Some became bird sanctuaries. Others a nesting ground for different species, benign as sheep and horses and rabbits, and impossible to live with as snakes, crabs and mice. Yet there’s at least one that thousands thrive to visit every year, and if you know your Internets, you’ve guessed it right: an island of cats.
We’ll get there but consider Guam first, a 30-mile-long U.S. island in the middle of the Pacific. Once humans set foot there, so did, so to speak, another invasive species, brown treesnakes, which have decimated all native birds. The result, brace yourself and say your prayers: there’s been an explosion in the population of spiders.
Even though the snakes are not a danger to adult humans, they perpetrated, with our valuable help, an environmental catastrophe, as if bird populations aren’t already dwindling around the world, due to a variety of causes. You may want to find out what kind of spiders are there; we’re just happy they haven’t yet learned to swim.
Now, if your thing is snakes, aren’t you up for a treat. Brazil’s breathtaking Ilha da Queimada Grande is inhabited by the world’s greatest concentration of Golden Lanceheads, whose poison is so powerful that’s capable of killing two men in one go. Only researchers, and naive migratory birds, are allowed on the island. Hopefully, the former usually manage to leave.
BABY DOLLS & JAPANESE CATS
Horror of another kind, man-made, no less, can be found in Mexico’s Isla de las Muñecas, an eerie legacy left by a hermit, Don Julian Santana, who died in 2001, but not before hanging dolls for years all over the small island. And they’re not pretty; as a matter of fact, they’re downright scary, and you may put us down to never be caught dead there.
The eccentric monument to someone’s gory sense of art is now, what else? a touristic attraction. Just like the ghostly Gunkanjima Island, in Japan, and Yim Tin Sai, off the coast of Hong Kong, once heavily populated, now perfect scenarios for visions of apocalyptic doom: dilapidated buildings, broken glass, pieces of photos, and debris.
They’re also worlds away from Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, infested with over 40 million crabs, or Gough Island, in the South Atlantic, ridden with enlarged mice. No places for humans to call home, to be sure, they nevertheless hold a certain appeal when seen from afar. Which, by the way, is how we intend to keep admiring them.
Now that you’ve endured a small odyssey of frightening places only a particular class of deranged adventurer would like to spend a single night at, you’ve earned a treat of knowing that, yes, there is still left, in this inhospitable and cruel world, a place you can indeed plan on visit, and we don’t even work for them.
Tashiro-jima, in Japan, is a small island with a rising population of cats, a much less number of fishermen who feed them, and pretty much nothing else. Felines, as you probably know, are at the top of the food chain (while allowing us to fool ourselves believing otherwise), and wouldn’t put up with other species.
There are many cat sanctuaries around the world, but unlike most wild feral populations, which are impossible to get close, in Fukuoka, the rulers are used to greet strangers, and will gladly accept your offerings. Up to a certain point, of course. But why complain? After all, who’d try the same with spiders?
* Going Under
* Drowning Nations
* Walk the Isles
* That Sinking Feeling