With an area of 36 km², Henderson Island is the largest of the Pitcairn Islands in Great Britain in the South Pacific. In the north of the island there is a 200 m wide fringing reef. Shielded from civilization influences, nature could develop undisturbed on the atoll and a species-rich flora and fauna could develop.
South Sea Henderson Island: Facts
|Official title:||Henderson Island South Sea|
|Natural monument:||with 37 km² largest island within the group of Pitcairn Islands; made of coralline limestone (»makatea«), with a 200 m wide fringing reef in the north, north-west and north-east of the island|
|Continent:||Australia / Oceania|
|Country:||United Kingdom, Pitcairn Islands|
|Location:||Henderson Island, east-northeast of Pitcairn, east of Oeno and west of Ducie|
|Meaning:||one of the few atolls in the world untouched by humans as a “laboratory” for studying island evolution|
|Flora and fauna:||Consists of Miro, Toa, Pandanus tectorius, Santalum hendersonense and Myrsine hoskae; Bird species such as the flightless rallen species Nesophylax ater, the Lori species Vini stepheni, the downy pigeon species Ptilinopus insularis and the reed warbler species Acrocephalus vaughani taiti, masked booby, red-tailed tropical bird, noddi and fairy tern; 29 species of coral|
A little garden of Eden
Surrounded by the foaming waves of the Pacific Ocean and lying in the southeast wind, the so-called southeast trade wind, Henderson Island is – about 5000 kilometers from any major land mass – one of the most isolated islands on earth. As the largest and most easterly of the Pitcairn archipelago, it appears at first glance to be the classic island paradise. At second glance, this island turns out to be extremely inhospitable due to the lack of fresh water and therefore largely unsuitable for human settlement.
According to dentistrymyth, Henderson Island rises as the remnant of an annular coral reef on the top of an extinct volcano from a depth of three and a half kilometers. In particular, the occurrence of screw trees and climbing plants, which have hook-shaped thorns and are colloquially very aptly referred to as “wait a while”, make it difficult to cross the island on foot and make the constant use of a machete necessary. If you approach the island by ship, it appears as a low hill, which is lined with narrow cliffs and snow-white beaches.
Europeans set foot on the island for the first time in 1606 when the Spanish navigator Pedro Fernández de Quirós set foot on it and found it so repellent that he immediately set sail again. The remains of a refuge, near which fish bones, bird bones and turtle shells, but also »grinding stones« and broad axes from the shells of killer clams were found, suggest that there must have been a settlement on the island in the 12th century. The significance and purpose of this establishment and its sudden abandonment after three centuries remain a mystery to this day.
More than two centuries after it was set foot on it by the first Europeans, Henderson Island was rediscovered in 1819 by Captain James Henderson. Even if the island bears his name today, it was known for a long time as Elizabeth Island, going back to the name of the ship that brought the news of this “discovery” to the residents of Pitcairn Island, 200 kilometers southwest. The residents of Pitcairn Island at the time were the descendants of the legendary mutineers of the “Bounty” who had found a new home there with their Polynesian wives.
The calm that lies over Henderson Island has only been disturbed a few times in the course of history: scientists and geologists who looked for phosphate deposits in the 19th century were only guests on the island for a short time. But there were other “white guests” on the atoll: The “Essex”, which had been badly damaged in a collision with a whale and was unable to maneuver in the waves of the Pacific, ended up stranded on Henderson Island with three survivors. After hearing about the fate of the Essex crew, the American author Herman Melville wrote his world-famous novel Moby Dick or The White Whale in 1851. Today the island is only occasionally visited by the Pitcairn islanders to cut sandalwood and hardwoods such as Toa and Miro.
It was only in the course of resistance to the plans of an American millionaire to build his luxury home on the island that the island’s ecosystem began to be investigated more intensively after 1983, and nine species of plants and four species of birds found only here were discovered, including the flightless »Henderson’s railroad «. While it is claimed that a number of bird species have been exterminated by humans and rats, Henderson Island is one of the best examples of a largely pristine atoll in the world.