A tropical paradise converted into a wasteland
Nauru is a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. It is located south of the Federated States of Micronesia; west of Kiribati; north of the Solomon Islands; and east of Papua New Guinea. Nauru consists of a solitary island with a land mass of 8.1 square miles, surrounded by a coral reef. Most of the island has been mined and sold for its phosphate content (previously an important ingredient in fertilizer and munitions). The phosphate was deposited over centuries by sea birds as guano. It took humans only about 80 years (1900-1980) to remove almost all the recoverable phosphate, leaving most of the island barren. The 14,000 residents of Nauru live along the narrow beach. During the phosphate mining era, Nauru had one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Now, unemployment averages 90% and the nation survives on international aid, mostly from Australia. Nauru was invaded by Japan in the early days of World War II, but was ignored by the Allies, who did not bother to retake the island from Japanese forces until after the war officially ended. In 2001, when the container ship Tampa rescued 433 refugees attempting to reach Australia, the Australian Government paid the Republic of Nauru to open and operate a detention center on the island. When the detention center finally closed in 2008, Nauru sought compensation for the blow to its economy. When a whale ship captain first “discovered” Nauru is 1798, he named it “Pleasant Island” because of its peaceful and luscious condition. Now, after years of ecological mismanagement, it in most areas resembles the surface of the moon.