Trip Report and Photos
Clipperton Island - April 10 - 25, 2010
In April of 2010 I went to Clipperton Island. This was a 15 day scuba diving trip on the Nautilus Explorer. This was my second trip to Clipperton. I was also on the first recreational scuba diving expedition to Clipperton atoll in 2007.
Where is Clipperton Island?
Clipperton Island is located in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest of Mexico and west of Central America at approximately 19 17 N 109 13 W. The nearest landmass is the Revillagigedo Archipelago (Islands of San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida, and Clarion) which lie approximately 600 miles northwest of Clipperton Island.
What is Clipperton Island?
Clipperton Island is a ring shaped coral atoll with a circumference of approximately 7.5 miles. The center of the island is comprised of a stagnant "freshwater" lagoon with a layer of acidic water at the bottom. The lagoon emits a strong odor of rotten eggs from the hydrogen sulfide. The landmass of the island ring has an average width of about 500 feet. The western end of the island is the widest at approximately 1,300 feet, and the northeastern end of the island is the narrowest at about 150 feet. Most of the atoll is only about 6 feet above sea level. Clipperton Rock, a small volcanic outcropping, has an elevation of approximately 95 feet.
Who Lives on Clipperton Island?
Clipperton Island is owned by France. It is administered by the French colonial high commissioner for French Polynesia. The island is uninhabited.
The island does support a large population of oceanic birds - primarily boobie birds (Brown Boobie AKA White-bellied Boobie - Sula leucogaster nesiotes, Red-footed - Sula sula websteri, and Blue-faced AKA White-faced AKA Masked Boobie - Sula dactylatra granti); a large population of red land crabs - Gecarcinus planatus; a few small lizards, and reportedly - some rats. Small fish do live in the freshwater layer of the lagoon.
There are several dense groves of Coco Palms and areas of low bushy vegetation cover some of which has been reported to be goatsfoot morning-glory - Ipomoea pes-caprae.
What is the History of the Island?
Clipperton Island is named after the 18th century English pirate John Clipperton who may have used the island as a base for his raids on shipping. The official, but lesser used, name of the island is "Ile de la Passion" - or "Passion Island".
Ownership of the island was sort of established by France by annexation in the early 1700's. The American Guano Mining Company laid claim to the island under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Mexico asserted claim to the island in 1897. The final ownership of the island was arbitrated by Italian King Victor Emanuel who in 1931 declared Clipperton Island to be owned by the French.
Since the discovery of the island sporadic colonizations were attempted by France, the United States, Britian, and Mexico. The last and perhaps most famous colonization attempt was begun by the British Pacific Island Company in 1906. Approximately 100 men, women, and children living on the island by 1914. A Mexican ship from Acapulco brought them supplies every two months until this service was terminated during the Mexican Revolution. By 1917 all but one of the men on the island had died of scurvy or during failed attempts to escape off the island. At this time 15 women and children remained with the only surviving male - the Lighthouse keeper - Victoriano Alvarez. Victoriano Alvarez declared himself the island king and proceeded to rape and murder the remaining survivors until he was killed by one of the women. On July 18, 1917 - shortly after the death of Victoriano Alvarez the last 4 remaining women and 7 children were evacuated from the island by the US Navy ship Yorktown. No further attempts to colonize the island have been made.
In 1944, during World War II, Clipperton was considered for use as a site for a US airbase. The island was occupied by the US Navy from 1944-1945. The island was abandoned by the US military in 1945.
Since 1945 there have been visits to the island by scientists, amateur radio operators, sport fishermen, tuna and shark fishermen, and the French Navy. The Nautilus Explorer has brought two groups of recreational and scientific divers to the island - in 2007 and 2010. I have been on both of these trips as a recreational scuba diver.
What is the Weather?
Tropical! What are the ocean conditions? Variable!