Suwarrow

Suwarrow

Suwarrow (also called Suvorov, Suvarou or Suvarov) is a low coral atoll in the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean. It is about 1,300 km south of the equator and 825 km northwest of Rarotonga, from which it is administered.

The atoll was inhabited by Polynesians during prehistory. It was uninhabited when discovered by the Russian ship "Suvorov", which reportedly followed clouds of birds to the island on September 17, 1814. (The ship was named after Russian general Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov, who appears as "Suwarrow" in Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan.) It has been only intermittently inhabited since. The Island name has also been spelled variously as "Souvorow", "Souwaroff" and "Souworoff". "Suwarrow" is the official spelling adopted by New Zealand.

Suwarrow was described by Fanny Vandegrift as "the most romantic island in the world", but it was not the model for her husband's famous book, Treasure Island. It can lay claim to being a real treasure island though. In the mid 19th century (records dispute whether it was 1855 or 1848), a ship from Tahiti was carrying out salvage work when a box containing NZ$15,000 worth of coins was dug up (Helm and Percival 1973). Some years later, New Zealander Henry Mair found pieces of eight in a turtle nest. Mair became involved in a row, the find was covered up and it has never been rediscovered.

During World War II, Robert Dean Frisbie and several coast watchers lived on the largest islet, Anchorage. Frisbie wrote about his experiences in The Island of Desire. In 1942, a hurricane washed away 16 of the 22 islets in the atoll. The coastwatchers left a hut with water tanks behind, and left wild pigs and chickens on the islet. Later, cats were allowed to run wild on Anchorage Island, to control Polynesian rats which were documented to occur there since the island was discovered by Europeans (Jones 2001) but conceivably were introduced by Polynesian seafarers a longer time ago.

New Zealander Tom Neale lived alone on Suvorov for a total of 16 years in three periods between 1952 and 1977. He described his experience in the first two of those periods in An Island to Oneself (1966 ISBN 0-918024-76-5).

In 1978 the island was declared a National Park of the Cook Islands due to the plentiful marine and bird wild life it supports. It is not listed as an IBA. The island and surrounding water is Crown land. However, there are plans to build an aquaculture operation. At the end of the 20th century, 3% of all Red-tailed Tropicbirds in the world (some 400) bred there, as well as 9% of the global population of the Lesser Frigatebird (about 8500, though only a part of these seem to be present at any one time).(Jones 2001)

Nowadays a caretaker resides on Anchorage Island. The only way to visit the island is with a private yacht or by chartered expedition from Rarotonga.

Most of the small islets have only herbs and shrubs, with Pemphis acidula and beach heliotrope (Tournefortia argentea) growing in abundance. The larger islands have a dense interior vegetation of Cordia subcordata (tou); indeed, the westernmost island, Motu Tou is named after this woodland, its name literally means "high island".(Jones 2001)

See also

Notes

References

  • (1944): The Island of Desire. TXT fulltext online]).
  • (1973): Sisters In The Sun: The Story of Suwarrow and Palmerston Atolls. ISBN 0709139713.
  • (2001): The status of seabird colonies on the Cook Islands atoll of Suwarrow. Bird Conservation International 11(4): 309–318. (HTML abstract)
  • (1966): An Island to Oneself. ISBN 0-918024-76-5.
  • (1954): Siege of Suwarrow. Walkabout March 1: 34-35.

External links

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