French Southern & Antarctic Lands #2 (1956)

French Southern & Antarctic Lands - Scott #2 (1956)
French Southern & Antarctic Territory – Scott #2 (1956)

The French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, TAAF) is an overseas territory (Territoire d’outre-mer or TOM) of France. It consists of:

  1. Kerguelen Islands (Archipel des Kerguelen), a group of volcanic islands in the southern Indian Ocean, southeast of Africa, approximately equidistant between Africa, Antarctica and Australia;
  2. St. Paul and Amsterdam islands (Îles Saint Paul et Amsterdam), a group to the north of Kerguelen;
  3. Crozet Islands (Îles Crozet), a group in the southern Indian Ocean, south of Madagascar;
  4. Adélie Land (Terre Adélie), the French claim on the continent of Antarctica;
  5. the Scattered Islands (Îles Éparses), a dispersed group of islands around the coast of Madagascar.

The territory is also called the French Southern Lands (Terres australes françaises) or French Southern Territories. The latter excludes Adélie Land, where French sovereignty is not widely recognized.

The territory has no permanent civilian population. Those resident consist of visiting military personnel, officials, scientific researchers and support staff.Glope showing location of the French Southern and Antarctic Territories in the Indian Ocean

Map of French Southern and Antarctic Lands

The French Southern and Antarctic Lands have formed a territoire d’outre-mer of France since 1955. Formerly, they were administered from Paris by an administrateur supérieur assisted by a secretary-general; since December 2004, however, their administrator has been a préfet, currently Cécile Pozzo di Borgo, with headquarters in Saint-Pierre on Réunion Island. The territory is divided into five districts: Saint Paul / Île Amsterdam, Archipel Crozet, Archipel des Kerguelen, Terre Adélie, and Îles Éparses. Each district is headed by a district chief, who has powers similar to those of a French mayor (including recording births and deaths and being an officer of judicial police).

Because there is no permanent population, there is no elected assembly, nor does the territory send representatives to the national parliament.

The territory includes Île Amsterdam, Île Saint-Paul, Îles Crozet and Îles Kerguelen in the southern Indian Ocean near 43°S, 67°E, along with Adélie Land, the sector of Antarctica claimed by France, named by the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville after his wife.

Adélie Land (about 167,000 square miles or 432,000 km²) and the islands, totaling 3,004 square miles (7,781 km²), have no indigenous inhabitants, though in 1997 there were about 100 researchers whose numbers varied from winter (July) to summer (January).

Île Amsterdam and Île Saint-Paul are extinct volcanoes and have been delineated as the Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands temperate grasslands ecoregion. The highest point in the territory is Mont Ross on Île Kerguelen at 6,070 feet (1,850 m). There are very few airstrips on the islands, only existing on islands with weather stations, and the 766 miles (1,232 km) of coastline have no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorages.

The islands in the Indian Ocean are supplied by the special ship Marion Dufresne sailing out of Le Port in Réunion Island. Terre Adélie is supplied by Astrolabe sailing out of Hobart in Tasmania.

However, the territory has a merchant marine fleet totaling (in 1999) 2,892,911 GRT/5,165,713 tonnes deadweight (DWT), including seven bulk carriers, five cargo ships, ten chemical tankers, nine container ships, six liquefied gas carriers, 24 petroleum tankers, one refrigerated cargo ship, and ten roll-on-roll-off (RORO) carriers. This fleet is maintained as a subset of the French register that allows French-owned ships to operate under more liberal taxation and manning regulations than permissible under the main French register. This register, however, is set to be replaced by the International French Register (Registre International Français, RIF).

Monts des Deux Frères in the Kerguelen Islands
Monts des Deux Frères in the Kerguelen Islands

The territory contains the only land mass that is antipodal to the Contiguous United States. The far northern tip of Îles Kerguelen, near Baie de l’Oiseau (48.669199°S 69.02298°E), is directly opposite the globe to the small area north of US Highway 2 between Chester, Montana, and Rudyard, Montana, and south of the Canada–US border. Île Amsterdam and Île Saint-Paul lie antipodal to two small areas in south-eastern Colorado, near the cities of Lamar and Cheyenne Wells, respectively.

The territory’s natural resources are limited to fish and crustaceans. Economic activity is limited to servicing meteorological and geophysical research stations and French and other fishing fleets.

The main fish resources are Patagonian toothfish and spiny lobster. Both are poached by foreign fleets; because of this, the French Navy and occasionally other services patrol the zone and arrest poaching vessels. Such arrests can result in heavy fines and/or the seizure of the ship.

France used to sell licenses to foreign fisheries to fish the Patagonian toothfish; because of overfishing, it is now restricted to a small number of fisheries from Réunion Island.

The territory takes in revenues of about €16 million a year.

The Kerguelen Islands (Îles Kerguelen) are officially Archipel des Kerguelen, also known as the Desolation Islands (Îles de la Désolation), are located in the southern Indian Ocean constituting one of the two exposed parts of the mostly submerged Kerguelen Plateau. They are among the most isolated places on Earth, located 280 miles (450 km) northwest of the uninhabited Heard Island and McDonald Islands and more than 2,051 miles (3,300 km) from Madagascar, the nearest populated location (excluding the Alfred Faure scientific station in Île de la Possession, about 1,340 km (830 mi) from there, and the non-permanent station located in Île Amsterdam, 890 miles (1,440 km). The islands, along with Adélie Land, the Crozet Islands, Amsterdam, and Saint Paul Islands, and France’s Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean are part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and are administered as a separate district.

The main island, Grande Terre, is 2,577 square miles (6,675 km²) in area and is surrounded by a further 300 smaller islands and islets, forming an archipelago of 2,786 square miles (7,215 km²). The climate is raw and chilly with frequent high winds throughout the year. The surrounding seas are generally rough and they remain ice-free year-round. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but France maintains a permanent presence of 45 to 100 scientists, engineers and researchers. There are no airports on the islands, so all travel and transport from the outside world is conducted by ship.

Kerguelen Islands map

Kerguelen Islands appear as the Ile de Nachtegal on Philippe Buache’s map from 1754 before the island was officially discovered in 1772. The Buache map has the title Carte des Terres Australes comprises entre le Tropique du Capricorne et le Pôle Antarctique où se voyent les nouvelles découvertes faites en 1739 au Sud du Cap de Bonne Esperance (Map of the Southern Lands contained between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Pole, where the new discoveries made in 1739 to the south of the Cape of Good Hope may be seen). It is possible this early name was after Abel Tasman’s ship De Zeeuwsche Nachtegaal. On the Buache map, “Ile de Nachtegal” is located at 43°S, 72°E, about 6 degrees north and 2 degrees east of the accepted location of Grande Terre.

The islands were officially discovered by the French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec on February 12, 1772. The next day Charles de Boisguehenneuc landed and claimed the island for the French crown. Yves de Kerguelen organized a second expedition in 1773 and arrived at the baie de l’Oiseau by December of the same year. On January 6, 1774, he commanded his lieutenant, Henri Pascal de Rochegude, to leave a message notifying any passers-by of the two passages and of the French claim to the islands. Thereafter, a number of expeditions briefly visited the islands, including that of Captain James Cook in December 1776 during his third voyage, who verified and confirmed the passage of de Kerguelen by discovering and annotating the message left by the French navigator.

Soon after their discovery, the archipelago was regularly visited by whalers and sealers (mostly British, American and Norwegian) who hunted the resident populations of whales and seals to the point of near extinction, including fur seals in the 18th century and elephant seals in the 19th century. Since the end of the whaling and sealing era, most of the islands’ species have been able to increase their population again.

In 1800, Hillsborough spent eight months sealing and whaling around the islands. During this time Captain Robert Rhodes, her master, prepared a chart of the islands.

Christmas Harbour, Kerguelens Land, dated 1811 by George Cooke
Christmas Harbour, Kerguelens Land, dated 1811 by George Cooke

In 1825, the British sealer John Nunn and three crew members from Favourite, were shipwrecked on Kerguelen until they were rescued in 1827 by Captain Alexander Distant during his hunting campaign.

The islands were not completely surveyed until the Ross expedition of 1840.

For the 1874 transit of Venus, George Biddell Airy at the Royal Observatory of the UK organized and equipped five expeditions to different parts of the world. Three of these were sent to the Kerguelen Islands. The Reverend Stephen Joseph Perry led the British expeditions to the Kerguelen Islands. He set up his main observation station at Observatory Bay and two auxiliary stations, one at Thumb Peak led by Sommerville Goodridge, and the second at Supply Bay led by Cyril Corbet. Observatory Bay was also used by the German Antarctic Expedition led by Erich Dagobert von Drygalski in 1902–03. In January 2007, an archaeological excavation of this site was carried out.

In 1874–1875, British, German and U.S. expeditions visited Kerguelen to observe the transit of Venus.

In 1877 the French started a coal mining operation; however, this was abandoned soon after.

French sailors officially taking possession of the Kerguelen Islands on January 8, 1893.
French sailors officially taking possession of the Kerguelen Islands on January 8, 1893.

The Kerguelen Islands, along with the islands of Amsterdam and St Paul, and the Crozet archipelago were officially annexed by France in 1893, and were included as possessions in the French constitution in 1924 (in addition to that portion of Antarctica claimed by France and known as Adélie Land; as with all Antarctic territorial claims, France’s possession on the continent is held in abeyance until a new international treaty is ratified that defines each claimant’s rights and obligations).

From 1906 to 1926, stamps of France were used in the Kerguelen Islands, cancelled by the Resident’s cachet. Letters from there are known to have been routed via Madagascar, Cape Town and Durban in South Africa, and Bunbury, Australia.

Volcan du Kerguelen Islands
Volcan du Kerguelen Islands

The German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis called at Kerguelen during December 1940. During their stay the crew performed maintenance and replenished their water supplies. This ship’s first fatality of the war occurred when a sailor, Bernhard Herrmann, fell while painting the funnel. He is buried in what is sometimes referred to as “the most southerly German war grave” of World War II.

The islands used stamps of Madagascar from 1948 to 1955. On October 26, 1948, to commemorate the discovery of Adélie Land in 1840 by Jules Dumont d’Urville and publicize French claims to the region, a 100 franc Madagascar airmail stamp was overprinted TERRE ADÉLIE DUMONT D’URVILLE.

Kerguelen has been continually occupied since 1950 by scientific research teams, with a population of 50 to 100 frequently present. There is also a French satellite tracking station.

Until 1955, the Kerguelen Islands were administrative-wise part of the French Colony of Madagascar and Dependencies. On August 6, 1955, they collectively became known as Les Terres australes et antarctiques françaises (French Southern and Antarctic Lands) and were administratively part of the French Départment d’outre-mer de la Réunion. Its first stamp, a 15 franc stamp of Madagascar overprinted TERRES AUSTRALES ET ANTARCTIQUES FRANÇAISES, was released on October 28, 1955, and the first non-overprinted stamps were released on April 25, 1956. These consisted of a set of six regular issues in denominations from 50 centimes to 15 francs which depicted indigenous wildlife and scenery, and two airmail stamps in denominations of 50 and 100 francs which depicted emperor penguins.

In 2004, the Kerguelen Islands were permanently transformed into their own entity (keeping the same name) but having inherited another group of five very remote tropical islands, les îles Éparses, which are also owned by France and are dispersed widely throughout the southern Indian Ocean.

Cook Glacier in the Kerguelen Islands.
Cook Glacier in the Kerguelen Islands.

The main island of the Kerguelen archipelago is called La Grande Terre. It measures 93 miles (150 km) east to west and 75 miles (120 km) north to south.

Port-aux-Français, a scientific base, is along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Morbihan on La Grande Terre at 49°21′S 70°13′E. Facilities there include scientific-research buildings, a satellite tracking station, dormitories, a hospital, a library, a gymnasium, a pub, and the chapel of Notre-Dame des Vents.

The highest point is Mont Ross in the Gallieni Massif, which rises along the southern coast of the island and has an elevation of 6,070 feet (1,850 m). The Cook Ice Cap (Calotte Glaciaire Cook), France’s largest glacier with an area of about 156 square miles (403 km²), lies on the west-central part of the island. Overall, the glaciers of the Kerguelen Islands cover just over 190 square miles (500 km²). Grande Terre has also numerous bays, inlets, fjords, and coves, as well as several peninsulas and promontories.

Principal activities on the Kerguelen Islands focus on scientific research — mostly earth sciences and biology. The former sounding rocket range to the east of Port-aux-Français is currently the site of a SuperDARN radar. Since 1992, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) has operated a satellite and rocket tracking station which is located four kilometers east of Port-aux-Français. CNES needed a tracking station in the Southern Hemisphere, and the French government required that it be located on French territory, rather than in a populated, but foreign, place like Australia or New Zealand.

Agricultural activities were limited until 2007 to raising sheep (about 3,500 Bizet sheep — a breed of sheep that is rare in mainland France) on Longue Island for consumption by the occupants of the base, as well as small quantities of vegetables in a greenhouse within the immediate vicinity of the main French base. There are also feral rabbits and sheep that can be hunted, as well as wild birds.

There are also 5 fishing boats and vessels, owned by fishermen on Réunion Island (about 2,200 miles or 3,500 km) to the north) who are licensed to fish within the archipelago’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Map of the Crozet Islands

Another of the five administrative districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands is The Crozet Islands (Îles Crozet; or, officially, Archipel Crozet) — a sub-antarctic archipelago of small islands in the southern Indian Ocean. Not including minor islets or rock reefs etc., the Crozet group consists of six islands. The Eastern and Western Groups are 58.7 miles (94.5 km) apart (from Île des Pingouins to Île de la Possession). The Crozet Islands are uninhabited, except for the research station Alfred Faure (Port Alfred) on the East side of Île de la Possession, which has been continuously manned since 1963. Previous scientific stations included La Grande Manchotière and La Petite Manchotière.

The Crozet Islands were discovered on January 24, 1772, by the expedition of French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne, aboard Le Mascarin. His second-in-command Jules (Julien-Marie) Crozet landed on Île de la Possession, claiming the archipelago for France. The expedition continued east and landed at New Zealand, where Captain Marion and much of his crew were killed and cannibalized by Maori. Crozet survived the disaster, and successfully led the survivors back to their base at Mauritius. In 1776, Crozet met James Cook at Cape Town, at the onset of Cook’s third voyage. Crozet shared the charts of his ill-fated expedition, and as Cook sailed eastward he stopped at the islands, naming the western group Marion and the eastern group Crozet.

In the following years, sealers visiting the islands referred to both the eastern and western groups as the Crozet Islands, and Marion Island became the name of the larger of the two Prince Edward Islands, which were discovered by Captain Marion on the same expedition.

One of the Crozet Islands
One of the Crozet Islands

In the early 19th century, the islands were often visited by sealers, to the extent that the seals had been nearly exterminated by 1835. Subsequently, whaling was the main activity around the islands, especially by the whalers from Massachusetts. In 1841, there were a dozen whaleships around the islands. Within a couple of years this had increased to twenty from the United States alone. Such exploitation was short-lived, and the islands were rarely visited for the rest of the century.

Shipwrecks occurred frequently at the Crozet Islands. The British sealer, Princess of Wales, sank in 1821, and the survivors spent two years on the islands. The Strathmore was wrecked in 1875. In 1887, the French Tamaris was wrecked and her crew stranded on Île des Cochons. They tied a note to the leg of an albatross, which was found seven months later in Fremantle, but the crew was never recovered. Because shipwrecks around the islands were so common, for some time the Royal Navy dispatched a ship every few years to look for stranded survivors. The steamship Australasian also checked for survivors en route to Australia.

Between 1924 and 1955, France administered the islands as a dependency of Madagascar. Crozet Islands became part of the French Southern Territories in 1955. In 1938, the Crozet Islands were declared a nature reserve. In 1961, a first research station was set up, but it was not until 1963 that the permanent station Alfred Faure opened at Port Alfred on Île de la Possession (both named after the first leader of the station). The station is staffed by 18 to 30 people (depending on the season) and does meteorological, biological, and geological research, maintains a seismograph and a geomagnetic observatory (IAGA code: CZT). The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization ( CTBTO ) has listening equipment on the island after the CTBTO disclosed that two of its stations, the other being on Ascension Island, detected what is believed to be an underwater, non-nuclear explosion off the coast of Argentina and believed to be a fatal accident of the ARA San Juan submarine in 2017.

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]806px-Antarctica,_France_territorial_claim.svg[/url] by [url=]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
Map of Antarctica, showing French territorial claims.

Adélie Land (Terre Adélie) stretches from a coastline area of Antarctica along the Great Southern Ocean inland all the way to the South Pole. It lies between 136° E (near Pourquoi Pas Point at 66°12′S 136°11′E) and 142° E (near Point Alden at 66°48′S 142°02′E), with a shore length of about 220 miles (350 km) and with its inland part extending as a sector of a circle about 1,600 miles (2,600 km) toward the South Pole. Adélie Land has borders with the Australian Antarctic Territory both on the east and on the west, namely on Clarie Land (part of Wilkes Land) in the west, and George V Land in the east. Its total land area, mostly covered with glaciers, is estimated to be 167,000 square miles (432,000 km²). This territory is claimed by France as one of five districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, although most countries have not given this their diplomatic recognition.

Discovery of Adélie Land by Jules Dumont d'Urville, 1840.
Discovery of Adélie Land by Jules Dumont d’Urville, 1840.

The coast of Adélie Land was discovered in 1840 by the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville (1790–1842) who named it after his wife, Adèle. This is the basis of the French claim on this Antarctic land. Since January 12, 1956, a manned French research base has been located year-round at 66°40′S 140°01′E, the Dumont d’Urville Station, with a winter population around 33, but which goes up to about 78 during the Antarctic summer. The first French station, Port Martin, was built April 9, 1950, at 66°49′04″S 141°23′39″E, but it was destroyed by a fire during the night of January 22–23, 1952. Port Martin housed a winter population of 11 in 1950–51 and 17 in 1951–52.

France also had an inland station on the Antarctic ice sheet long ago, about 320 km from the coast and from Dumont d’Urville Station, at an elevation of about 2400 m, the Charcot Station (named for Jean-Baptiste Charcot) at 69°22′S 139°01′E, built for the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58. This was occupied from January 1957 through 1960, but housed only three men.

Map of Saint-Paul Island

Saint-Paul Island (Île Saint-Paul) is an island forming part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands in the Indian Ocean, with an area of 2.3 square miles (6 km²). The island is located about 53 miles (85 km) southwest of the larger Île Amsterdam, and 1,900 miles (3,000 km) southeast of Réunion. It is an important breeding site for seabirds. A scientific research cabin on the island is used for scientific or ecological short campaigns, but there is no permanent population. It is under the authority of a senior administrator on Réunion.

Île Saint-Paul is triangular in shape, and measures no more than 3.11 miles (5 km) at its widest. It is the top of an active volcano, the volcano last erupted in 1793 (from its SW Flank), and is rocky with steep cliffs on the east side. The thin stretch of rock that used to close off the crater collapsed in 1780, admitting the sea through a 330 feet (100 m) channel; the entrance is only a few meters deep, thus allowing only very small ships or boats to enter the crater. The interior basin, 0.62 miles (1 km) wide and 160 feet (50 m) deep, is surrounded by steep walls up to 890 feet (270 m) high. There are active thermal springs.

Île Saint-Paul was first discovered in 1559 by the Portuguese. The island was mapped, described in detail and painted by members of the crew of the Nau São Paulo, among them the Father Manuel Álvares and the chemist Henrique Dias. Álvares and Dias correctly calculated the latitude as 38° South. The ship was commanded by Rui Melo da Câmara and was part of the Portuguese India Armada commanded by Jorge de Sousa. The Nau São Paulo, who also carried women and had sailed from Europe and had scale in Brazil, would be the protagonist of a dramatic and moving story of survival after sinking south of Sumatra.

The next confirmed sighting was made by Dutchman Harwick Claesz de Hillegom on April 19, 1618. There were further sightings of the island through the 17th century. One of the first detailed descriptions of it, and possibly the first landing, was made in December 1696 by Willem de Vlamingh.

During sailing ship days captains would occasionally use the island as a check on their navigation before heading north. Saint-Paul was occasionally visited by explorers, fishermen, and seal hunters in the 18th and 19th centuries, among which was the American sealer General Gates, which called at the island in April 1819. George William Robinson, an American sealer, was left on the island to hunt seals, and stayed there for 23 months until the General Gates returned for him in March 1821. Robinson subsequently returned to Saint-Paul in 1826 to gather sealskin, sailing from Hobart aboard his own vessel, the schooner Hunter.

Saint-Paul Island with Quille Rock in the foreground.
Saint-Paul Island with Quille Rock in the foreground.

France’s claim to the island dates from 1843, when a group of fishermen from Réunion, interested in setting up a fishery on Saint-Paul, pushed the Governor of Réunion to take possession of both Saint-Paul and Amsterdam Island. This was performed by means of an official decree dated June 8, 1843, and on July 1, Martin Dupeyrat, commanding the ship L’Olympe, landed on Amsterdam Island and then on Saint-Paul on July 3, and hoisted the tricolor. The only surviving evidence of this claim is an inscribed rock situated on the edge of Saint-Paul’s crater lake, inscribed “Pellefournier Emile Mazarin de Noyarez, Grenoble, Canton de Sassenage, Département de l’Isère, 1844“. All fishery operations were, however, abandoned in 1853, when the French government renounced its possession of the two islands.

The first good map of the island was not drawn up until 1857, when the Austrian frigate Novara landed a team which studied the flora, fauna, and geology from November to December.

In 1871, a British troop transport, HMS Megaera, was wrecked on the island. Most of the 400 persons on board had to remain upwards of three months before being taken off. A short, impressionistic account of the two French residents encountered by the shipwrecked crew appears in Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands (2010).

The Marion Dufresne II is a research and supply vessel named in honor of 18th century French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne launched in 1995 and having two main missions: logistic support for the French Austral Islands and oceanographic research
The ‘Marion Dufresne’ off the “port” of Crozet. East Island in the background. The research and supply vessel is named in honor of 18th century French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne. It was launched in 1995 and has two main missions: logistic support for the French Austral Islands and oceanographic research.

In September 1874, a French astronomical mission conveyed by the sailing ship La Dive spent just over three months on Saint-Paul to observe the transit of Venus; geologist Charles Vélain took the opportunity to make a significant geological survey of the island.

In 1889, Charles Lightoller, who was later to become famous as the Second Officer of the RMS Titanic, was shipwrecked here for eight days when the sailing barque Holt Hill ran aground. He describes the shipwreck and the island in his autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships. Lightoller speculated that pirates may have used the island and their treasure could be buried in its caves.

In 1892, the crew of the French sloop Bourdonnais, followed by the ship L’Eure in 1893, took possession of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam Island in the name of the French government.

In 1928, the Compagnie Générale des Íles Kerguelen recruited René Bossière and several Bretons and Madagascans to establish a spiny lobster cannery on Saint-Paul, La Langouste Française. In March 1930, at the end of the second season, most of the employees left, but seven of them stayed on the island to guard the installations, supposedly for just a few months. But the promised relief arrived much too late. When the ship finally came, in December 1930, five people had died, mostly from lack of food and scurvy: Paule Brunou (a child born on the island who died two months after her birth), Emmanuel Puloc’h, François Ramamonzi, Victor Brunou, and Pierre Quillivic. Only three survivors were rescued. This event has since come to be known as Les Oubliés de Saint-Paul (“the forgotten ones of St. Paul”).

A few years later in 1938, the crew of a French fishing boat were stranded on the island. Distress calls sent by the crew over short-wave radio were fortuitously received 11,000 miles away in the United States. The message was relayed to the Navy and the French consul in San Francisco, while 12-year-old Neil Taylor, an amateur radio operator in California, made contact with the stranded crew and assured them that help was on the way.

Saint-Paul Island has a cool oceanic climate and the slopes of the volcano are covered in grass. It is a breeding site for subantarctic fur seals, southern elephant seals and rockhopper penguins. It was also the breeding site for an endemic flightless duck & several kinds of petrel before the introduction of exotic predators and herbivores, including black rats, house mice, European rabbits, pigs and goats during the 19th century or earlier. The pigs and goats have since disappeared or been eradicated. Black rats were eradicated in January 1997 following an aerial drop of 13.5 tonnes of brodifacoum anticoagulant poison baits over the island.

The island, with the adjacent islet of Quille Rock, has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports several breeding seabirds. The island’s subtropical location gives it an avifauna distinct from that of subantarctic islands and contains several breeding species which are rare in the region. Saint Paul’s seabirds nested mainly on Quille Rock until rat eradication allowed some species, notably Macgillivray’s prions (a subspecies of Salvin’s prion) and great-winged petrels, to recolonize the main island. Other species include a colony of some 9000 pairs of northern rockhopper penguins, about 20 pairs of sooty albatrosses, a few pairs of Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses, and small numbers of Australasian gannets, fairy prions, little and flesh-footed shearwaters, Wilson’s storm petrels and sooty terns.

Map of Amsterdam Island

Île Amsterdam, also known as Amsterdam Island, New Amsterdam, or Nouvelle Amsterdam, is an island named after the ship Nieuw Amsterdam, in turn named after the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam that later became New York City in the United States. It lies in the southern Indian Ocean. Together with neighboring Île Saint-Paul 53 miles (85 km) to the south, forms one of the five districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. The Martin-de-Viviès research station, first called Camp Heurtin and then La Roche Godon, is the only settlement on the island and is home to about thirty non-permanent inhabitants involved in biological, meteorological and geomagnetic studies.

The island was discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano on March 18, 1522, in the course of his voyage of global circumnavigation. However, he did not name the island. Having found the island unnamed, Dutch captain Anthonie van Diemen named it Nieuw Amsterdam after his ship on June 17, 1633. The first recorded landing was made in December 1696 by Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh.

French Captain Pierre François Péron claims he was marooned from 1792 to 1795 on the island. Peron’s Memoires, in which he describes his experiences, were published in a limited edition, which is an expensive collectors’ item. There was confusion in the early days between Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands.

On October 11, 1833, the British barque Lady Munro was wrecked at the island. Of the 97 persons aboard, 21 survivors were picked up two weeks later by a US sealing schooner, General Jackson.

In January 1871, an attempt to settle the island was made by a party led by Heurtin, a French resident of Réunion Island. After seven months, their attempts to raise cattle and grow crops were unfruitful and they returned to Réunion, abandoning the cattle on the island.

The islands of Île Amsterdam and Île Saint-Paul were first claimed by Martin Dupeyrat for France in 1843. However, the governor of Réunion refused to ratify the act of possession and France took formal control only in October 1892.

In May 1880, HMS Raleigh circumnavigated the island searching for a missing ship the Knowsley Hall. A cutter and gig were dispatched to the island to search for signs of habitation. There was a flagstaff on Hoskin Point and 50–70 yards (46–64 m) north were two huts, one of which had an intact roof and contained three bunks, empty casks, an iron pot and the egg shells and feathers of sea-birds. There was also an upturned serviceable boat in the other hut, believed to be evidence of fisherman who visit the island.

The islands were attached to Madagascar in 1924 and became a French colony. The first French base on Amsterdam was established in 1949, and was originally called Camp Heurtin. The Global Atmosphere Watch still maintains a presence on Amsterdam.

The island is home to the endemic Amsterdam albatross, which breeds only on the Plateau des Tourbières. Other rare species are the brown skua, Antarctic tern and western rockhopper penguin. The Amsterdam duck is now extinct, as are the local breeding populations of several petrels. The common waxbill has been introduced. Both the Plateau des Tourbières and Falaises d’Entrcasteaux have been identified as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International, the latter for its large breeding colony of Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses.

Maps of the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean. Anti-clockwise from top right: Tromelin Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, Bassas da India, Europa Island. Banc du Geyser is not shown.
Maps of the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean. Anti-clockwise from top right: Tromelin Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, Bassas da India, Europa Island. Banc du Geyser is not shown.

The fifth district of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands since Februar 2007 is called The Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean (Îles Éparses or Îles Éparses de l’océan Indien), consisting of four small coral islands, an atoll, and a reef in the Indian Ocean. They have never had a permanent population. Two of the islands — Juan de Nova and Europa — and the Bassas da India atoll lie in the Mozambique Channel west of Madagascar, while a third island, Tromelin, lies about 280 miles (450 km) east of Madagascar and the Glorioso Islands lies about 120 miles (200 km) northwest of Madagascar. Also in the Mozambique Channel is the Banc du Geyser, a reef under French control claimed by Madagascar since 1976. France and the Comoros view the Banc du Geyser as part of the Glorioso Islands.

The islands have been classified as nature reserves. Except for Bassas da India, they all support meteorological stations: those on the Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova, and Europa Island are automated. The station on Tromelin Island, in particular, provides warning of cyclones threatening Madagascar, Réunion, or Mauritius. Each of the islands, except Bassas da India and Banc du Geyser, has an airstrip of more than 3,300 feet (1,000 m).

Mauritius, the Comoros, and Madagascar dispute France’s sovereignty over the islands. Mauritius claims Tromelin and argues that the island, discovered by France in 1722, was not ceded by the treaty of Paris in 1814. Madagascar claims sovereignty over Glorioso Islands (Banc du Geyser included) despite the islands not having been a part of Malagasy Protectorate, but rather a part of colony of Mayotte and dependencies, then a part of French Comoros that had become a separately administered colony from Madagascar in 1946. The Comoros claims the Glorioso Islands (Banc du Geyser included) too, as a part of the disputed French region of Mayotte. Madagascar claims Juan de Nova, and Europa and Bassas da India since 1972. Seychelles claimed a part of Scattered Islands too before the France–Seychelles Maritime Boundary Agreement.

Since January 3, 2005, the Îles Éparses have been administered on behalf of the French state by the senior administrator of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands based in Réunion. The Îles Éparses had previously been under the administration of the prefect of Réunion since the independence of Madagascar in 1960. France maintains a military garrison of around 14 troops on each of the islands in the Mozambique Channel that are claimed by Madagascar. The Glorioso Islands are also claimed by the Comoros, while Mauritius claims Tromelin Island.

France claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles (370 km) around each of the small islands in the Îles Éparses, which together with the EEZ claims for the islands of Réunion and Mayotte totals more than 400,000 square miles (one million square kilometers) in the western Indian Ocean. There is considerable overlap of the EEZ with the neighboring states.

Scott #2 is the lowest — 50 centimes — denomination in the first non-overprinted set of six stamps issued by the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Scott #2-7), released on April 25, 1956. The dark blue, sepia and yellow engraved stamp is perforated 13 and features a pair of  Eudyptes chrysocome filholi, the eastern rockhopper penguin or Indopacific southern rockhopper penguin which breeds on subantarctic islands of the Indian and western Pacific oceans including the Crozet Islands. Although genetically different, the eastern rockhopper penquin is still often considered a subspecies of the southern rockhopper penguin.

Rockhopper penguins on New Island in the Falkland Islands. Photo taken on January 5, 2016.
Rockhopper penguins on New Island in the Falkland Islands. Photo taken on January 5, 2016.

‘A Stamp A Day’ previously examined the northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) in an article about Tristan da Cunha. The rockhopper penguin Eudyptes chrysocome is sometimes considered two species, northern and southern rockhopper penguin, after research published in 2006 demonstrated morphological, vocal and genetic differences between the two populations. Molecular datings suggest that the genetic divergence with the southern rockhopper penguin may have been caused by a vicariant event caused by a shift in the position of the Subtropical Front during the mid-Pleistocene climate transition. Analysis of a part of a mitochondrial control region from a northern rockhopper penguin found on the Kerguelen Islands showed that it may have come from Gough Island, 6,000 km away, and that the southern and northern rockhoppers are genetically separate, though some individuals may disperse from their breeding colonies. Many taxonomists have yet to recognize the split, although some are beginning to do so.

E. c. filholi breeds on the sub-Antarctic islands of the Indo-Pacific Ocean: Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland, and the Antipodes Islands.

Their common name refers to the fact that, unlike many other penguins which get around obstacles by sliding on their bellies or by awkward climbing using their flipper-like wings as aid, rockhoppers will try to jump over boulders and across cracks.

This behavior is by no means unique to this species however — at least the other “crested” penguins of the genus Eudyptes hop around rocks too. But the rockhopper’s congeners occur on remote islands in the New Zealand region, whereas the rockhopper penguins are found in places that were visited by explorers and whalers since the Early Modern era. Hence, it is this particular species in which this behavior was first noted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.