Q: News on Kerguelen Islands???

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Jonathan Dale Kirwan

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Oct 29, 1994, 8:04:34 PM10/29/94
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I deeply apologize for asking this question here, but I feel that
oceanographers may have key experiences related to my question. I
will not intervene here on this issue again. I am curious, though,
and would appreciate any appropriate information. (I have posted
this is two other groups I felt were appropriate, excepting this
short apology.)

-- -- --

Hi! I'm curious about the French-operated Kerguelen Islands in
the south indian ocean and I would like to hear from anyone that
has any recent and relevant information about French usage of
them.

About a decade ago, my wife and I were looking over a globe, for
reasons I now forget. We noticed this unusually large island
in the south indian ocean, around 45 degrees South latitude, that
we'd never heard of. We decided to see what we could learn about
it and, at the time, were unable to find more than a paragraph or
two. (It was discovered in 1772, annexed in 1893 by France, is
windy, cold, and about 2400 square miles in size.)

We didn't really think much about it at the time, but I've often
taken a moment or two in the library or elsewhere to see what
else I could find, whenever I remembered to take the trouble.

Recently, I had to buy an airline ticket to LA and I asked my
agent about the islands. Did they know anything? They didn't
but they thought it sounded interesting and they'd see what they
could find out.

About a week later I received a call from one of the agents in
the office. He sounded different, asking my name several times
before identifying the agency. (Now, I had a different standing
question for them regarding price changes and I was expecting
that call back, too.)

Ah, ha! I remembered him and said, "Yes, what's up?"

He said, "Well, I have some information about the Kerguelen
Islands."

I said, "Yes? That's great! What'd you find out?"

Rather than draw out this conversation here, I'll summarize.

They had sent a FAX to the French embassy in LA, where they
also have tourist information, asking for information about
travel to the Kerguelen Islands. The agency received a call
from the embassy WITHIN THE HOUR!

Now, the agent was very surprised. They never received a call
from the French embassy about information they had requested.
In fact, they'd always thought of that embassy as being especially
slow about getting anything useful. And they always answered,
when they did at all, via mail. Never a call.

I asked, "So, it's _really, really_ unusual to get a call?"

He said, "No, no. You don't understand. We NEVER [spoken very
purposefully and slowly for emphasis] get a call. It is not
unusual. It never has happened in 18 years we've been here."

"And you got it within the hour?" I asked.

"Yup."

They told him that there are no visitors there. There are only
two ways to get on the island. You must either be invited by
someone there or you must have _relevant research_ and ask.
They could not expand on what was considered _relevant research_.

"Do you have any pictures?" he had asked them.

"No, there is nothing. We have no information here about the
Islands," I'm told they answered.

Well, well. Now my curiosity is really piqued. What _could_ the
French be doing with 2400 square miles of land, thousands of miles
from any other land mass (dead-center between Asia, Africa,
Australia, and Antarctica [the four A's]), out of the shipping
lanes, out of view of any satelites, and too desolate to colonize?

I can only guess. But if I don't get any responses, I'll start
planning to sail there and accidentally show up to cavort all over
the place. The weather and sea will be rough so I'll be some
years getting ready for it. Please save me from this fate.

Jon K

James G. Acker

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Oct 31, 1994, 10:46:59 AM10/31/94
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It's not so nefarious as you make it sound. I've been to
Kerguelen. It isn't exactly a tourist paradise, but it would
sure be fun to explore (given the proper gear, because it's
pretty inhospitable).

The way I went there was on the research vessel/mail ship/
passenger ferry _Marion Dufresne_, which visits the French bases on
Crozet, Kerguelen, and Amsterdam Is. a few times a year. I was
part of an oceanographic research cruise effort, which was combined
with the ship's support and delivery function.

Going to the TAAF (Territoires Australes et Antarctiques
Francais) islands DID require several special permits and special
visas. They are basically scientific enclaves, and furthermore, they
are wildlife preserves that are still very untouched and wild (except for
Amsterdam, which is over-run with domestic cattle). Kerguelen has
the largest base, and has streets with elephant seal crossing signs.
I saw several big nosers on the island. (Crozet has a great colony
of king penguins. Kerguelen had a few rockhoppers and one other
species, but not a real colony).

The land looks spectacular. I was only there a day, and
nothing was "near" the base. The best-looking mountains were
across the bay, and I wasn't about to go swimming.

So, in summary, they are closed to most access and are
basically wilderness preserves and scientific bases. I think the
main problem is not in being a visitor as such, but in the fact that
the methods of getting there are so limited that the French have
to utilize most available ship space. None of the islands has an
airstrip (one was discussed for Kerguelen, but not built). If
you were so adventurous as to be able to sail there on your own ---
and be warned, 50 knot winds were encountered in February, which
is ostensibly still the austral summer -- if you received the
necessary visas, I don't believe they'd turn you away. But they
aren't running a tourist operation.


===============================================
| James G. Acker |
| REPLY TO: jga...@neptune.gsfc.nasa.gov |
===============================================
All comments are the personal opinion of the writer
and do not constitute policy and/or opinion of government
or corporate entities.

James G. Acker

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Oct 31, 1994, 10:49:23 AM10/31/94
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Followup on my longer message:

I do have some pictures, in the form of slides. If
you're really interested, I could have them printed.

David Baker

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Oct 31, 1994, 7:10:11 PM10/31/94
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>Well, well. Now my curiosity is really piqued. What _could_ the
>French be doing with 2400 square miles of land, thousands of miles
>from any other land mass (dead-center between Asia, Africa,
>Australia, and Antarctica [the four A's]), out of the shipping
>lanes, out of view of any satelites, and too desolate to colonize?

Probably blowing it up?

--
------------------------------
| David Baker |
| E-mail: da...@gmetra.po.my |
------------------------------

Philip Wong

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Oct 31, 1994, 8:20:25 PM10/31/94
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Sorry to intrude and interrupt, good sir, it sounds very intriguing
to me and I can't help thinking about "Jurassic Park"....I'll email
you if I do come across anything about this mystery island. And perhaps
you would want to tell us all about it when you've completed your
journey?

Regards,

Phil.
--
---------------------------------^---^---------------------------------------
| Philip Wong < o o > "There are more things in heaven |
| E-mail: phi...@gmetra.po.my V and earth than one can imagine.."|
| \___/ "How sure are you?" |
| Geophysicist "Sure as hell..." |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jonathan Dale Kirwan

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Nov 3, 1994, 3:36:58 AM11/3/94
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Well, I think I owe everyone a response regarding my query on the
Kerguelen's. In addition to those showing here, I have received
some personal mail and I very much appreciate all the responses.
They have been informative and kind, one and all.

I was surprised by the number of actual visitors of Kerguelen that
said hello to me. I almost wonder what percentage of English-
speaking Kerguelen visitors, still living, they make up. I hope
my wife and I can add two to their number, one day.

I've been given to understand that the Terres Australes et
Antarctiques Francaises (TAAF) staffs the place with "volunteers"
from its Foreign Legion, given that they have a choice between a
post in the Sahara or this one. The human population is rarely
much more than 100, with perhaps 80 wintering over. And starting
this last July, the French have permitted some tourists to travel
on their supply vessel, for a fee.

I received several different letters discussing some motions on
the part of the French to use the island for underground testing
of nuclear weapons (to transfer from Mururoa Atoll's above ground
testing.) I understand that I can get more information on this
from GreenPeace, and I will try. I understand from the letters
that such plans are currently either scrapped or on-hold.

The only flat-out conflicting information I got was about an air-
strip. One said it was never built, another said it was and then
destroyed (by weather?) But the mention of an air-strip occured
often enough that I suspect one must at least have been proposed.

The islands appear to be pristine and worthy of a concerted effort
to preserve them. There are important populations of various
fauna there (I didn't hear a single thing about the flora, even
about the "famous" Kerguelen cabbage) and it seems that they are
easily destabilized by human introduction of foreign life or other
disturbances.

A Frenchman wrote to suggest that the reason behind the apparent
_difficulty_ in getting permission to visit the main island is
the French government's desire to protect its _very fragile
environment_. But I must admit to being a bit amused by the
contrast between this view and the apparent thoughts by the
French government of using the island for nuclear testing and
building an air strip!

Of course, neither airports nor nuclear tests may have ever crossed
anyone's mind in the French government -- it may only be a rumor. And a
small? air strip on a 2300 sq.mi. island may not constitute a serious
threat to an ecosystem -- it's the use such a strip is put to that might.
I'll know more about this apparent juxtaposition of values after I've done
some of the suggested leg-work.

Thank you all!

To those who've responded:

I deeply appreciate your help. You have been very gracious to
share your personal experiences with me and I feel indebted to
you.

Jon K

Gordon Hamilton

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Nov 3, 1994, 11:24:26 AM11/3/94
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In article <jonkCyo...@netcom.com>,
Jonathan Dale Kirwan <jo...@netcom.com> wrote:
>
> [...stuff about Kerguelen Islands...]

>
>The only flat-out conflicting information I got was about an air-
>strip. One said it was never built, another said it was and then
>destroyed (by weather?) But the mention of an air-strip occured
>often enough that I suspect one must at least have been proposed.

I think the above story relates not to the Kerguelen
Islands but to the French base at Dumont d'Urville in
Antarctica. A few years ago, after relocating a penguin
rookery and fighting pitched battles with Greenpeace
activists, an aistrip was finally built. It was never
used (I won't go into the details here). During the
last austral summer (1993-94) the airstrip was
destroyed. It was built at a very low elevation, in
an area frequently affected by severe storms. Last
summer such a storm washed over the airstrip bringing
with it sea ice and icebergs which did a rather
effective job of trashing the airstrip.

gordon

Geoff McCaughan

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Nov 6, 1994, 6:02:32 PM11/6/94
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Jonathan Dale Kirwan (jo...@netcom.com) wrote:

> I received several different letters discussing some motions on
> the part of the French to use the island for underground testing
> of nuclear weapons (to transfer from Mururoa Atoll's above ground
> testing.)

Just a correction here. The testing at Mururoa has been underground
for many years.

--
Geoff, Sysop Equinox (equinox.gen.nz) +64 (3) 3854406 [6 Lines]
"The silver thorn, the bloody rose, lying crushed upon the virgin snow"
Vote SPQR Ski Nix Olympica Freedom for Axolotls

PAUL SHERLIKER

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Nov 3, 1994, 12:23:45 PM11/3/94
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In article <7836528...@gmetra.po.my>, phi...@gmetra.po.my (Philip Wong) writes:
> In article <jonkCyG...@netcom.com> jo...@netcom.com writes:
>>
>>I deeply apologize for asking this question here, but I feel that
>>oceanographers may have key experiences related to my question. I
>>will not intervene here on this issue again. I am curious, though,
>>and would appreciate any appropriate information. (I have posted
>>this is two other groups I felt were appropriate, excepting this
>>short apology.)
>>
>>-- -- --
>>
>>Hi! I'm curious about the French-operated Kerguelen Islands in
>>the south indian ocean and I would like to hear from anyone that
>>has any recent and relevant information about French usage of
>>them.

A brief glance at my atlas reveals that Heard Island is one of
the Kerguelens. That's the place that oceanographers chose to make an
enormous submarine racket in order to measure sound conduction through the
ocean, essentially because there's a clear path for sound from there to much of
the globe.

So that's part of the "relevant research"; you can add botanical and
zoological research, of course.

Then the Kerguelen plateau is an important place for physical
oceanographers because it seems to place an important restriction on the
antartic circumpolar current.

My guess as to the reasons for the response is fairly mundane:
the embassy were surprised to get a contact from a travel agency about such
an out-of-the-way place, and telephone rather than writing because it seemed
odd. As for the visiting restrictions, it's probably due partly to fragile
ecology, partly to lack of local facilities, and partly to a bureaucratic
feeling that anyone who can't be supervised is up to no good.

- Paul

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