Europa Island, Scattered Islands

Photo: fr:Utilisateur:B.navez, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Can you find Europa on a map? No, not Europe. The continent would be easy. Europa is an island. It’s part of a group called the Scattered Islands. It still isn’t ringing a bell? Good. That means it’s remained blissfully under the radar.

The Scattered Islands are part of the French Southern & Antarctic Lands. They aren’t quite as remote as they sound, though. The four small islands, an atoll, and a reef sit in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. True to their name, they’re greatly dispersed from one another. Tromelin Island lies east of Madagascar. The Glorioso Islands sprawl northwest of the island nation. While two islands (Juan de Nova and Europa), the atoll (Bassas da India), and the reef (Banc du Geyser) are strewn across the Mozambique Channel.

The southernmost island was uninhabited when a British ship arrived in 1774. Though Europa Island was named after the vessel, it was a French family who attempted to settle the 11-square-mile island that looks like it swirls around its Grand Lagoon. The family abandoned their sisal (agave) plantation, but the French retained control of Île Europa. They built an airstrip, a meteorological station (to monitor cyclones), a military camp, and a lighthouse on the north coast. The whole island has been designated a nature reserve, as well as an Important Bird Area and a Ramsar site. Most imporantly, it still has no permanent human residents. Birds and sea turtles rule Europa.

That’s why it’s hard to find Europa on a map. It hasn’t been turned into a tourist site. It’s rarely visited by non-professionals. It’s been largely left in peace. There isn’t a port or a harbor on the coral island. Boats have to anchor in Gabriel Cove. There aren’t any paved streets once you’re on it. The few roads are rough, and they’re outnumbed by walking tracks. A small dry forest occupies the center of the island. Goats, whose ancestors were left by the settlers, like to hang out there. Mangroves and swamps surround the lagoon. That’s where breeding seabirds, including a large colony of great frigatebirds, congregate. White-coral beaches line much of the coast. Green sea turtles claim them to nest. Plus a healthy fringing reef lies just offshore.

So you’re claiming this little island in the middle of nowhere. You may not be able to visit Europa, especially right now, but it’ll be your mental escape from this day forward. Savor it.

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