At the edge of existence

We have just come from Phoenix Island (also known as Rawaki Island), which is a tiny, bird-filled island at the edge of existence. This is going to be a short post, since we were only there for 1 day and will soon be on our way to Orona--our last stop in the Phoenix Islands chain. Anyway, I got to spend some brief, precious time ashore this stark island in between the usual dive-eat-dive schedule. I was struck by the harshness of the island. With no freshwater, hundreds of thousands of birds (with quite a diversity!) manage to survive, and beyond that, roost!

(Photos: Randi Rotjan)

I walked most of the perimeter of the island, stepping over smoothed clam shells and coral rocks, all the while wondering: if I were marooned here, could I survive? The answer is undeniably "no"--the lack of shade and freshwater would be the two killers. But, I was surprised at the things that would come easily. First, food. Between bird eggs and sealife, there is plenty of protein to be had. Though guano-covered, there was also plenty of shrubbery--some of which was edible (the pickleweed, for example).

Walking along the island, we also found a disturbing amount of trash--styrofoam, plastic bottles. With some rain and some forethought, one could easily bottle plenty of freshwater. Most surprising, however, were the flip flops. You might think that shoes would be hard to come by (and they are essential!) in these rocky places. The coral rock would chew your feet to bits without shoes. But flipflops, as it turns out, have remarkable ocean voyaging ability, and amazing staying power. They do not degrade, and they are abundant on these remote shorelines. Good luck finding a matched pair, however.

Rawaki beach with coral rock and garbage (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

All of this rambling (my apologies) is merely to make the point that it's hard to eek out a living on the edge of existence. Yet, thousands of organisms manage just fine. As for the humans... well, the NAI'A makes it possible (and easy! And enjoyable!) to be out here. With delicious meals, dive capabilities, and our every need attended to, it's sometimes easy to forget exactly how remote we are.

Nai'a and the skiff off the shore of Rawaki

But as this trip is winding down, I am reminded of the 5 plus day steam that we will have back to Fiji. In the meantime, it's nothing but blue ocean, isolated islands, and abandoned flip flops here at the edge of existence.


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