Monday, 2 April 2018

(II) - The French sub-antarctic island of Saint Paul

Just some 90 km to the south of the island of Amsterdam, Saint Paul is smaller and permanently uninhabitated. It was first discovered in 1559 by the Portuguese.

Since 1792 St. Paul has been a temporary station for whale and seal hunters. France's claim to the island dates from 1843, when a group of French fishermen declared interest in setting up a seal and whale fishery on Saint-Paul.

Île Saint-Paul is the top of an active volcano, last erupted in 1793. It's almost triangular in shape, and measures no more than 5 km at its widest. The caldera was later flooded by the ocean waters and is now the only access from sea into the island.

The volcano was submerged following a collapse along a NW trending fault. The 1.8 km wide caldera is now a 50 m deep bay connected to the ocean by a narrow channel only 2 or 3 meters deep. It forms an almost perfect circle with a narrow opening to the sea, protected by two banks of gravel and rock.

Those banks are the only place for an emergency landing; there was first installed in the 1930s a lobster and crayfish fishing facility, there sits presently the cabin for temporary shelter of the sovereignty guards or the TAAF service.

As this old romantic print shows, the island is rocky with steep cliffs on the east side, making it inaccesible by sea except by the caldera.

Saint Paul Island

Coordinates: 38° 43′ S, 77° 31′ E
Area: ~ 8 km2
Max. height: Crête de la Novara, 268 m
Population: 0

The shallow waters entrance allows only very small ships or boats to enter the crater. The interior basin, 1 km wide, is surrounded by steep walls up to 270 m high.

There are two active geothermal springs, located near the caldera rim and along the margins of the caldera bay. A temporary shelter cabin was built on the lowlands near the entrance.

The cabin to shelter the TAAF visitors, in the same place where the previous fishing facilities were intalled.

The fishery

Early visitors of the then uninhabited islands caught the lobsters by hand in very shallow water. They brought them to the hot springs in the crater bottom without taking them out of the water, and cooked there. 

The settlement and its TSF tower

From 1850 to 1930, several attempts to install a fishery and canning facility took place due to the extreme rich waters abounding in seafood - mainly the unique Rock lobster, a rare species found exclusively in these waters. In 1928, a rather large factory was started, and a TSF communcation tower was built; but the enterprise went bankrupt two years later, leaving the breton fishermen population abandonned, most to die of scurvy disease. Ruins of the old factory and some rusted machinery are still visible.

In 1950, a new French factory enterprise, equipped with deepfreeze installations, started operating in the island. Nowadays the fishing, freezing or canning are operated on sea by a company's vessel. No one sets foot on land.

The fishing settlement consisted of a canning factory and the houses for the fishermen and employees of the factory, about 120 people at most.

La Quille, one of the entrance rock pillars, seen from the inner slope.A distintive landmark.

As for the fauna, the only rare or endangered species is the local variant of the dark Petrel - the  Antarctic Dove or Prion, still found at Roche Quille, almost extinct at Amsterdam island.

Due to the total protection status of the territory, any unautorised landing is impossible; only TAAF oficial missions are allowed.