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Nauru - Japan's Source of Phosphate during WWII

Nauru - Japan's Source of Phosphate American History Disasters World War II Geography

For a thousand years, or so, birds flying over the Pacific island of Nauru have left their droppings on the island.  Over time, those droppings—referred to as guano—fossilized, becoming a highly prized source of phosphates.

Phosphates—which contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen—are used for fertilizer and for making explosives. 

For a time, during World War I, Nauru was occupied by Germany.  After the Great War, the island—then still producing vast amounts of mined phosphates—was jointly administered by Australia, New Zealand and Britain (via a trusteeship). 

During World War II, Japanese forces captured the island to control the phosphate mining and to appropriate those resources for Japan's own use. Many islanders were turned into slave laborers.

In 1968, Nauru became independent.

Now ... after many years of strip-mining the fossilized bird droppings, large sections of Nauru have become a wasteland.  The landscape is blighted, and the phosphates are basically gone. 

The island has gone from producing high per-capita income, for its residents, to near-bankruptcy.  Mismanaged funds have further dwindled Nauru's financial reserves and, since the phosphates have been mined, the islanders are trying to develop different ways of earning an income.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Mar 16, 2017


Media Credits

Image of Nauru map, by Tschubby, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

License:  This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: You are free to share and make derivative works of it under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one.

 

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