Wednesday, 13 August 2014

St. Paul and St. George,
on the sub-arctic Pribilof Islands, in the Bering sea

The Pribilofs were named after the Russian navigator Gavriil Pribylov, who first visited these remote islands in 1786.

Russian fur hunters were searching for the breeding grounds of the northern fur seal when fleet master Gavriil Pribylov found the islands. He named St. George Island for his ship.

In 1867, when the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia, the federal government took over the Pribilof Islands, but it was not until 1983 that the local people were given full control of their islands.

These are two really tiny islands in the middle of the immense and tempestuous Bering sea. I had never heard of them until I recently saw St. Paul's harbour in an episode of the Deadliest Catch.

The Pribilofs have a rocky coast, some sand dunes and a treeless tundra low inland.

St. Paul island is a low, rolling plateau, with extinct volcanic peaks scattered over its surface. Bogoslof Hill, 590 feet high, a conical crater near the center of the island, and Polovina Hill, are the most relevant geographic features.

'Little Polovina', one of many small volcano craters, now filled with water.

It seems that a tundra covered rock with an harbour can be of great help for fishing boats in distress, especially if they are far away far from Dutch Harbour, Unalaska.

As I searched, I discovered two of the islands are inhabited, each has its own settlement from remote russian-siberian occupation, and of course its own wooden orthodox church !

Several small craters are visible in this satellite image.

Saint Paul, island and harbour town

St. Paul is the largest of five islands in the Pribilofs, 240 miles north of the Aleutian Islands, 300 miles west of the Alaskan coast.

Coordinates: 57° 07′ N, 170° 17′ W
Population: ~ 600

St. Paul village and harbour are located on a narrow peninsula on the southern tip the Island.

Off-loading snow crab, St. Paul harbour

The island's economy is heavily dependent on the annual taking of the snow king crab and on subsistence and commercial halibut harvests.

Support services to commercial fleets fishing on waters of the Bering Sea also contribute to the economy.

The community is served by basic facilities - community hall, a small new hospital, a school, library and museum, as well as the government´s local administration.

The orthodox church and the old Clinic are the main historic buildings in town.

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul is almost too magnificent and rich for the small hamlet. The shinning onion dome can be seen from miles away.

Built in 1907, it was then "one of the most ambitiously designed and effectively executed small churches of the Byzantine tradition in Alaska."

The King Eider Hotel:

Built in 1923 as the 'Company House', the main lobby was then a library.

A typical wooden house in St. Paul.

The Old Clinic and doctor's residence, from 1925 - served later as Hospital.

The Webster House orthodox shrine, at the northeastern extreme of the island, overlooking the Bering Sea.

Saint George, island and harbour town

Coordinates: 56° 33′ N, 169° 33′ W
Population: ~160

St. George island lies 47 miles south of St. Paul Island. The main settlement is also called St. George, and it's really quite small and lacking some of the basic services. Still there is a small clinic and a basic school.

In contrast, still richer than its St. Paul sister is the St. George the Great Martyr Church, built much later, in 1935

A Nature Preserve Site

The Pribilof Islands are better known for the wildlife they preserve.

Wooly Lousewort (Pedicularis dasyantha)

Nootka Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis)

Nootka Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis)

Snowy Owl on St. Paul's dunes

Lapland Longspur

And the unique blue Pribilof fox, small and endemic, a must:

Alopex lagopus pribilofensis