January 31, 2012 - Nauru's Independence Day

Two things make Nauru unique—it is the world's smallest republic, and its economy has been based on bird poop!

Nauru during WWII
With just 8 square miles (or 21 square kilometers) of land and not too much more than nine thousand residents, Nauru is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean. It was settled by Micronesian and Polynesian people, and it was taken over by the German Empire in the late 1800s and by Japan during World War II. In between the World Wars and after WWII, it entered into trusteeship of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. On this date in 1968, it was granted independence.

Phosphate fields of Nauru
Nauru had its heyday because of an unusual resource: bird droppings! For thousands of years, bird droppings called guano mixed with marine sediments and formed natural fertilizers from phosphate rocks. Unfortunately, the mining of this resource was of the strip-mine variety, and so the fertile land was depleted and the landscape destroyed. For a while the island made a mini-boom from illegal money laundering, but international pressure and government officials cracked down on that “industry.” Now the island is quite poor and dependent on aid from Australia. Once called “Pleasant Island” by British visitors, the island is now struggling to regain a reputation as being pleasant.

According to the Nauru tourism website, people can enjoy deep-sea fishing, swimming, and scuba diving. But there hasn't been a lot of tourist development on the island. There is one airport, and flights only come in once a week. There seems to be only two hotels and only a few restaurants. (In comparison, my little hometown, which is just a rather boring suburban town in Southern California, is more than three times larger than Nauru in land area, has more than seven times the population, and has at least five hotels.)

Also on this date:

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