Phosphate........In 1896 a cargo officer, Henry Denson, stopped in Nauru and found an interesting rock that he thought might be petrified wood. He used it as a door stop at his company's office in Sydney, Australia. In 1899, Albert Ellis, who was transferred to Sydney, saw the "petrified wood" and suspected phosphate. Testing showed it to be very rich quality phosphate.

A new industry was born on the island. Much of the phosphate went to Australia for use as fertilizer. When Nauru gained independence in 1968, phosphate provided a great income for all the island citizens. That wealth lasted as long as the phosphate did. But, by the early 1990s, most of it had been depleted. Phosphate is still mined today, but the glory days are a thing of the past.

There are a few theories as to where all that phosphate might have come from. The most entertaining theory is it is all due to bird droppings. But, a more likely theory suggests it is from marine sediment among the limestone while the island formed.

The treasure of phosphate on the island of Nauru brought both great wealth and an environmental disaster. Nearly 80% of the island has been stripped in the process of mining out the phosphate.


I truly expected a lunar landscape when I received a tour of the phosphate works. The phosphate was dug out between large pillars of limestone. In areas where it was freshly dug, there was the expected "lunar" look. However, in the tropics, nature has a way of claiming back her own. Lush vegetation covers most of the mined surface.

It would be difficult to walk through most of the interior with the vegetation and limestone pillars. However, when all the phosphate is eventually removed, plans are made to level off the area so the people of Nauru can settle in more of the island. Who knows when and if that will eventually happen, but it is a good plan.

Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.
Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.yright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.