Ephemeral Island

Imagine cruising around the South Pacific and encountering a beach in the middle of nowhere (really!), surrounded entirely by ocean.  Upon further exploration, the beach isn’t sand — it’s made of pumice, volcanic stones floating on the water.  And where there are volcanic stones, there’s a volcano.  And in this case, the volcano is under the water’s surface, about to erupt and, in doing so, create an island.

If you’re Fredrik Fransson of Australia, there’s no need to imagine.  In August, 2006, it actually happened, as captured on his blog, through pictures such as the one on the right.  And while Fransson probably thought he was watching an island form anew, he wasn’t quite right.  The island was forming again.  This land mass, known as the Home Reef, is an “ephemeral island” — one which forms, erodes, and re-forms (and erodes again) over the course of years.

Situated closer to Tonga than anything else recognizable — and it’s still a few hundred miles from Tonga — the island was first formed in 1852 by the submarine volcanic eruption.   It eroded away over the years and re-formed again in 1984 after another eruption.  Home Reef again disappeared soon after — and, in 2006, re-emerged.  It’s obviously not inhabitable — beyond being temporary, it’s made of lightweight rafts of pumice.   But it’s not entirely eye-candy:  NASA suggests that Home Reef (and other pumice raft islands) may be used by marine life as migratory stop-overs.

Or, at least, once-in-a-lifetime sightseeing opportunities for lucky folk like Fransson.

Bonus fact:  Need a doctor on a remote desert island?  You’re probably out of luck.  But if you’re part of the 10% of the Australian population which lives in the Outback, far away from either coast and therefore from basic services such as medical care, worry not — there’s a solution.  The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, a non-profit there, provides “peace of mind and health services to people living, working or travelling in rural and remote communities within Australia” as part of their charitable mission.

From the Archives: The Boat in the Middle of Nowhere: The island exists, but it as might as well not.

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