Trouble in Paradise

Stand at the highest point on the tiny island of Nauru and you can see the curvature of the Earth falling away on the horizon. It’s a unique view, this 360-degree eyeful of ocean blue, and it makes you feel dazzled by nature’s grandeur. But come down from the summit of this 8 1/2-square-mile island in the South Pacific, and you’ll be shocked to see what Nauru has become.

“Our island was once a tropical paradise,” says Kinza Clodumar, a presidential adviser from Nauru. “A rainforest hung with fruits and flowers, vines and orchids, an island so beautiful that it was known to ancient mariners as Pleasant Island.” But now, after 80 years of phosphate mining by Australian companies, Nauru is a wasteland. “Except for a coastal strip,” he continues, “it is a desert of jagged coral pinnacles, uninhabitable, a ghostly array of tombstones baking in the equatorial sun.”