Saint Paul Island

Photo: B.navez (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: B.navez (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes you feel like an explorer. A modern-day explorer, who spends way too many hours reading books and searching the Internet. You’re fascinated by remote places that few have ever heard of and even fewer could pinpoint on a map. Take Île Saint-Paul, for example.

Saint Paul Island is one of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Feeling lost already? The island is in the southern Indian Ocean and forms the south tip of an large, imaginary triangle that includes Madagascar and Perth, Australia. The closest island to it, Île Amsterdam, is 53 miles to the north. While Réunion, the closest island anyone would consider visiting, is 1,900 miles away.

The small island sits atop an active stratovolcano. True, it hasn’t erupted since 1793, but bubbling thermal springs ensure it could at any time. The slopes of Crête de la Novara are steep and covered in grass. The eastern side collapsed into a crater long ago. Bassin du Cratère is now a nearly two-kilometer-wide lagoon that flows into the sea. Small ships can enter the calm caldera, though larger ones must anchor around the island, since the channel is only a few meters deep.

Not surprisingly, there is no permanent human population on Saint Paul Island. A rarely visited scientific research cabin is the only building on the 2.3-square-mile island, while old shipwrecks—mostly from 18th-19th century explorers, fishermen, and seal hunters—surround the rocky coastline. That doesn’t mean the island is uninhabited. Huge southern elephant seals, orange-chested subantarctic fur seals, and endangered northern rockhopper penguins call the island home. It’s also an important breeding site for seabirds, particularly albatrosses like the sooty albatross and the Indian yellow-nosed albatross. Now try to find Saint Paul Island on a map.

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