Île Amsterdam

Île Amsterdam, also known as Amsterdam Island, New Amsterdam, or Nouvelle Amsterdam, is an island named after the ship Nieuw Amsterdam, in turn named after the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam that later became New York City in the United States.

It lies in the southern Indian Ocean. It is part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and, together with neighbouring Île Saint-Paul 85 km (53 mi) to the south, forms one of the five districts of the territory.

The Martin-de-Viviès research station, first called Camp Heurtin and then La Roche Godon, is the only settlement on the island and is home to about thirty non-permanent inhabitants involved in biological, meteorological and geomagnetic studies.


 

History

Discovery

Île Amsterdam – Click to enlarge

The island was discovered by the Basque Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano on 18 March 1522, in the course of his voyage of global circumnavigation. However, he did not name the island. Having found the island unnamed, Dutch captain Anthonie van Diemen named it Nieuw Amsterdam after his ship on 17 June 1633. The first recorded landing was made in December 1696 by Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh.

18th Century

French Captain Pierre François Péron claims he was marooned from 1792 to 1795 on the island. Peron’s Memoires, in which he describes his experiences, were published in a limited edition, which is an expensive collectors’ item. There was confusion in the early days between Amsterdam and Saint Paul Islands.

19th Century

On 11 October 1833 the British barque Lady Munro was wrecked at the island. Of the 97 persons aboard, 21 survivors were picked up two weeks later by a US sealing schooner, General Jackson.

In January 1871 an attempt to settle the island was made by a party led by Heurtin, a French resident of Réunion Island. After seven months, their attempts to raise cattle and grow crops were unfruitful and they returned to Réunion, abandoning the cattle on the island.

The islands of Île Amsterdam and Île Saint-Paul were first claimed by Martin Dupeyrat for France in 1843. However, the governor of Réunion refused to ratify the act of possession and France took formal control only in October 1892.

In May 1880 HMS Raleigh circumnavigated the island searching for a missing ship the Knowsley Hall. A cutter and gig were despatched to the island to search for signs of habitation.
There was a flagstaff on Hoskin Point and 50–70 yards (46–64 m) north were two huts, one of which had an intact roof and contained three bunks, empty casks, an iron pot and the egg shells and feathers of sea-birds. There was also an upturned serviceable boat in the other hut, believed to be evidence of fisherman who visit the island.

20th Century

The islands were attached to Madagascar in 1924 and became a French colony. The first French base on Amsterdam was established in 1949, and was originally called Camp Heurtin. The Global Atmosphere Watch still maintains a presence on Amsterdam.

Amateur Radio

In the past there were frequent amateur radio operations from Amsterdam Island between 1987 and 1998. There was even a resident radio amateur operator in the 1950s using callsign FB8ZZ.

As of January 2014, Clublog listed Amsterdam and St Paul Islands as the seventh most-wanted DXCC entity. On 25 January 2014 a DX-pedition landed on Amsterdam Island using M/V Braveheart and began amateur radio operations from two separate locations using callsign FT5ZM. The DX-pedition remained active until 12 February 2014 and achieved over 170,000 two-way contacts with amateur radio stations worldwide.


 

Environment

Geography

Île Amsterdam

The volcanic island is a potentially active volcano which last erupted in 1792. It has an area of 55 km2 (21 sq mi), measuring about 10 km (6.2 mi) on its longest side, and reaches as high as 867 m (2,844 ft) at the Mont de la Dives.
The high central area of the island, at an elevation of over 500 metres (1,600 ft), containing its peaks and caldera, is known as the Plateau des Tourbières (in English the Plateau of Bogs).
The cliffs that characterise the western coastline of the island, rising to over 700 metres (2,300 ft), are known as the Falaises d’Entrecasteaux after the 18th-century French navigator Bruni d’Entrecasteaux.

Climate

Île Amsterdam has a mild, oceanic climate under the Köppen climate classification, with a mean annual temperature of 13 °C (55.4 °F), rainfall of 1,100 mm (43.3 in), persistent westerly winds and high levels of humidity. Under the Trewartha climate classification the island is well inside the maritime subtropical zone due to its very low diurnal temperature variation keeping means high.

Flora and Fauna

Phylica arborea on Amterdam

Phylica arborea trees occur on Amsterdam, which is the only place where they form a low forest, although the trees are also found on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island.
It was called the Grand Bois (“Great Forest”), which covered the lowlands of the island until forest fires set by sealers cleared much of it in 1825. Only eight fragments remain.

Some sailors from HMS Raleigh landed on the island on 27 May 1880. They described the vegetation as:

Rough ground, grass several feet high, myrtle 10–15 feet (3.0–4.6 m) high in sheltered ravines, sedge, ferns (principally polypodium) and cabbages, grown into bushes with stumps several inches thick in the garden ….

Birds

The island is home to the endemic Amsterdam albatross, which breeds only on the Plateau des Tourbières. Other rare species are the great skua, Antarctic tern and western rockhopper penguin. The Amsterdam duck is now extinct, as are the local breeding populations of several petrels. The common waxbill has been introduced.
Both the Plateau des Tourbières and Falaises d’Entrcasteaux have been identified as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International, the latter for its large breeding colony of Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses.

Mammals

There are no native land mammals. Subantarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals breed on the island. Introduced mammals include the house mouse and brown rat. Feral cats are present.

A distinct breed of wild cattle, Amsterdam Island cattle, also inhabited the island from 1871 to 2010. They originated from the introduction of five animals by Heurtin during his brief attempt at settlement of the island in 1871, and by 1988 had increased to an estimated 2,000.
Following recognition that the cattle were damaging the island ecosystems, a fence was built restricting them to the northern part of the island. In 2007 it was decided to eradicate the population of cattle entirely, resulting in the slaughter of the cattle between 2008 and 2010.

Share