Clipperton Island: Wikis


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Clipperton Island
Île de Clipperton or
Île de la Passion (French)
Isla de la Pasión (Spanish)
Motto"Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (Translation:"Liberty, equality, brotherhood")
AnthemLa Marseillaise
Capital none
Official language(s) French
Government French territory
 -  Head of State Nicolas Sarkozy
French overseas territory
 -  Total 8.9 km2 
3.4 sq mi 
 -  2007 estimate 0 (n/a)
 -  n/a census n/a 
 -  Density 0/km2 (n/a)
0/sq mi
Currency Euro* (EUR)
Time zone (UTC-8)
The whole area of 8.9 km2 consists of the lagoon (7.2 km2) and the actual island (1.7 km2) - see "Clipperton - Territoire". 
* De jure only, since there is no one living on the island who can use any money.

Clipperton Island (French: Île de Clipperton or Île de la Passion) (Spanish: Isla de la Pasión) is a nine-square-kilometre (approx. 3.5 square mile) coral atoll in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, southwest of Mexico and west of Central America, at 10°18′N 109°13′W / 10.3°N 109.217°W / 10.3; -109.217 (Clipperton Island)Coordinates: 10°18′N 109°13′W / 10.3°N 109.217°W / 10.3; -109.217 (Clipperton Island). It has no permanent inhabitants.

The island is an overseas possession of France under the direct authority of the French government, administered by the Minister of Overseas France.[1]


Natural conditions

Clipperton Island lies about 945 km (587 mi; 510 nmi) south from Socorro island in the Revillagigedo archipelago, Mexico, the nearest land. The ring-shaped island has completely enclosed its lagoon for approximately a century and is 12 km in circumference. The lagoon, which is stagnant, has some deep basins (−43 m, −22 m) and one particularly deep spot (Trou-Sans-Fond, "bottomless hole") with acidic water (sulphuric acid) at the bottom. The lagoon is devoid of fish. Clipperton Rock, at 29 metres (95 ft) is the highest point; it is a volcanic outcrop located in the southeast of the island.

The island has a tropical oceanic climate, with average temperatures of 20–32 °C (68–90 °F). The rainy season occurs May–October, and the island is subject to tropical storms. Surrounding ocean waters are warm, pushed by equatorial and counter-equatorial currents.

Although 115 species of fish have been identified in the territorial waters of Clipperton, the only economic activity is tuna fishing. It has no other natural resources.



Clipperton is now almost a desert, as it was during the 19th century, but 80 percent of the island was covered with grassland after the Mexican occupation and the introduction of pigs at the beginning of the 20th century.

When Snodgrass and Heller visited the island in 1898, they reported that "no land plant is native to the island." (Snodgrass and Heller 1902). Sachet (1962), however, points out that according to historical accounts from the island in 1711, 1825, and likely in 1839, the island had a low grassy and/or suffrutescent (partially woody) vegetation. Due to the elimination of pigs, which disturbed birds but also ate crabs, in 1958, the vegetation cover has progressively disappeared with the attacks of the millions of crabs (Gecarcinus planatus). Today there are only 674 coconut palms (counted by C. Jost during the "Passion 2001" French mission) and five islets in the lagoon with little grass that these terrestrial crabs cannot reach. There also exists an August 24, 1909, article from the San Francisco Chronicle speculating on the possibility that a group of palms on Clipperton was washed over by a tsunami caused by an earthquake.

After the introduction of pigs by guano miners, the flora was able to re-establish itself as the pigs helped to keep the land crabs in check (Sachet 1962). During the period of settlement, the island's flora was multiplied by the introduction of alien species; coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) were introduced in the 1890s.

According to Sachet's visit in 1958, the vegetation is a sparse cover of spiny grass and low thickets, a creeping plant (Ipomoea sp.), and stands of coconut palm. This low-lying herbaceous vegetation appears to be pioneer in nature, and the majority is believed to be composed of recently introduced species. Sachet suspected that Heliotropium curassavicum and possibly Portulaca oleracea are native (Sachet 1962). On the northwest side of the island, at least, the most abundant species are Cenchrus echinatus, Sida rhombifolia, and Corchorus aestuans. These plants compose a shrub cover up to 30 cm in height and are intermixed with Eclipta, Phyllanthus, and Solanum, as well as a taller plant, Brassica juncea. An interesting feature was observed in that the vegetation is arranged in parallel rows of species; dense rows of taller species alternate with lower, more open vegetation. This was assumed to be a result of the phosphate mining method of digging trenches.


Clipperton's name comes from John Clipperton, an English pirate and privateer who fought the Spanish during the early 18th century, and is said to have passed by the island. Some others say he used the island as a hidden base for his raids on shipping, yet there is no documentary evidence for this.[2]

The name Île de la Passion (English: Passion Island) was officially given in 1711 by French discoverers Martin de Chassiron and Michel Du Bocage, commanding the French ships La Princesse and La Découverte, who reached the island, drew the first map, and annexed it to France. The first scientific expedition took place in 1725 by the Frenchman M. Bocage, who lived on the island for several months. In 1858 it was formally claimed by France.

The American Guano Mining Company, under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, claimed the island for the United States of America, with earlier claim disputes to island guano tracing back to the Oceanic Phosphate Company with Mexico in 1848–1849.

On November 17, 1858, under Emperor Napoleon III, the French annexed Clipperton as part of their South Sea colony Tahiti. Mexico reasserted its claim over the island, on December 13, 1897, occupying and annexing it, and established a military outpost on the island; it appointed military governors from that time, including Ramón Arnaud (1906–1915). The US again held it briefly during the Spanish American War of 1898.[3]


The survivors of the isle of Clipperton

The British Pacific Island Company acquired the rights in 1906 to Clipperton's guano deposits and, in conjunction with the Mexican government, built a mining settlement. That year, a lighthouse was erected under the orders of President Porfirio Díaz, and a military garrison under Captain Arnaud of the Mexican army was sent to the island. By 1914, about 100 people – men, women, and children – were living on the island. Every two months, a ship from Acapulco sailed to Clipperton with provisions. However, with the escalation of fighting in the Mexican Revolution, the atoll was no longer reachable by ship, and the island's inhabitants were left to their own devices[citation needed].

By 1915, most of the inhabitants had died, and the last settlers wanted to leave on the US Navy warship Lexington, which had reached the atoll in late 1915. However, the Mexican military governor declared that evacuation was not necessary[citation needed].

By 1917, all but one of the males on the island had died, some in a failed attempt to sail to the mainland and fetch help. The lighthouse keeper, Victoriano Álvarez, found himself the last man on Clipperton island, along with 15 women and children[citation needed]. Álvarez promptly proclaimed himself king and began a rampage of rape and murder, before being killed by one of the recipients of his attentions, the widow of garrison commander Captain Ramón Arnaud[citation needed]. On July 18, 1917, almost immediately following Álvarez's death, four women and seven children, the last survivors, were picked up by the US Navy gunship Yorktown[citation needed]. The tragic story of the people has been subject to several novels. (e.g. Ivo Mansmann: CLIPPERTON, Schicksale auf einer vergessenen Insel; ISBN 3-354-00709-5 in German, no English translation available)

Ownership dispute

Ownership of Clipperton was then disputed between France and Mexico. Both countries agreed[4] on March 2, 1909, to seek the arbitration of the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel, who on January 28, 1931, declared Clipperton a French possession.[5] The French rebuilt the lighthouse and settled a military outpost on the island, which remained for seven years before being abandoned. In 1935 France took possession; it has since been administered by the French colonial high commissioner for French Polynesia.

World War II

Tank landing ship USS LST-563 beached on Clipperton in 1944.

In the late 1930s, Clipperton was visited twice by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wanted it to become a US possession for use as an airbase for Pacific Ocean operations. In 1944, he ordered the US Navy to occupy the island (until 1945) in one of the most secret US operations of World War II. Rear Admiral Byrd undertook several expeditions to the island to assess its potential as an airbase.


The island has been abandoned since World War II; since then it has only been visited by sport fishermen, regularly scheduled patrols by the French Navy, and Mexican tuna and shark fishermen. There have been infrequent scientific and amateur radio expeditions, and in 1978 Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited with his team of divers and a survivor from the 1917 evacuation to film a television special called Clipperton: The Island that Time Forgot.[6]

In 1962, the independence of Algeria threatened further French nuclear testing at Algerian sites. The French Ministry of Defence considered Clipperton as a possible replacement test site; however, due to the island's hostile climate and remote location, this was eventually ruled out.

The French explored reopening the lagoon and developing a harbor for trade and tourism during the 1970s. An automatic weather installation was completed on April 7, 1980. The data collected by this station are transmitted directly by satellite to Brittany.

In 1981, the Academy of Sciences for Overseas Territories recommended that the island have its own economic infrastructure, with an airstrip and a fishing port in the lagoon. This meant opening up the lagoon by creating a passage in the atoll rim. For this purpose, an agreement whereby the island became state property was signed with the French government, represented by the High Commissioner for French Polynesia. On October 13, 1986, a meeting took place regarding the establishment of a permanent base for fishing on or near Clipperton, between the high commissioner for the republic in French Polynesia, representing the state, and the survey firm for the development and exploitation of the island (SEDEIC). Taking into account the economic constraints, the distance, and the small size of the atoll, no plan, apart from studies, was undertaken to carry out this project. The plans for development of Clipperton were abandoned.

In 1988, five Mexican fishermen became lost at sea after a storm that occurred during their trip along the coast of Costa Rica. They drifted within sight of Clipperton, but were unable to reach it.[7]

In 1998, two American deckhands, from a fishing boat based out of California were stranded on the island for three weeks. They were rescued after rebuilding a survival radio and using distress flares to signal for help. The two rescued were David "Radio" Heritage, age 16 and Steven Longbaugh, age 20.[8]

The Mexican and French oceanographic expedition SURPACLIP (UNAM Mexico and UNC Nouméa) made extensive studies in 1997 on and around the island. In 2001, French geographer Ch. Jost extended the 1997 studies through his French "Passion 2001" expedition, explaining the evolution of the ecosystem, and releasing several papers, a video film, and a website.[9] In 2003 Lance Milbrand stayed on the island for 41 days on a National Geographic Society expedition, recording his adventure in video, photos, and a written diary (links below).

In 2005, Clipperton's ecosystem was extensively studied for four months by a scientific mission organized by Jean-Louis Étienne, which was to make a complete inventory of mineral, plant, and animal species found on the atoll, study algae as deep as 100 m below sea level, and study pollution.

On February 21, 2007, the administration of Clipperton was transferred from the High Commissioner of the Republic in French Polynesia to the Minister of Overseas France.[10]

A recreational scuba diving expedition by the luxury liveaboard safari boat M/V Nautilus Explorer dove the reefs around Clipperton from April 15–20, 2007 to observe the marine life and compare against life reported during the Connie Limbaugh (Scripps) expeditions in 1956 and 1958. Commencing in 2010, the Nautilus Explorer will be running diving expeditions from Cabo San Lucas to Clipperton Atoll via Socorro Island every spring.

The Dominion of Melchizedek, an unrecognized micronation, claims sovereignty over Clipperton.


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Clipperton Island


  1. ^ Art. 9, Loi n° 55-1052 du 6 août 1955 modifiée portant statut des Terres australes et antarctiques françaises et de l'île de Clipperton.
    Décret du 31 janvier 2008 relatif à l'administration de l'île de Clipperton.
  2. ^ Büch, Boudewijn. Eilanden ('Islands'). Holland, 1991, IScBN 9041330860
  3. ^ "Mexicans ask indemnity-attempt to enforce their claim on Clipperton Island". New York Times (March 11). 1898. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  4. ^ Original treaty between Mexico and France, French Foreign Ministry Archives,
  5. ^ Clipperton Islands Case (Mexico v. France), Judicial Decisions Involving Questions of International Law (28 January 1931).
  6. ^ Simon Rogerson, "Cousteau and the Pit", Dive magazine, July 19, 2006.
  7. ^ Arias, Ron. Five against the sea: A true story of courage and survival, 1989
  8. ^ LaJoie, John. ' 'American Maritime Accident Report' ', 1998
  9. ^
  10. ^

See also


  • Jost, C. and S. Andrefouët, 2006, Review of long term natural and human perturbations and current status of Clipperton Atoll, a remote island of the Eastern Pacific, Pacific Conservation Biology, Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Ltd, Chipping Norton, NSW, Australia, 12 : 3
  • Jost, C., 2005g, Risques environnementaux et enjeux à Clipperton (Pacifique français). Revue européenne Cybergeo, 314, 01 juillet 2005, cartes et fig., 15 p.
  • Jost, C., 2005f, Bibliographie de l’île de Clipperton, île de La Passion (1711–2005). Paris, Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 120-121, juin-déc. 2005, texte et 411 réf., p. 181-197.
  • Dickinson, Edwin D. The Clipperton Island Case. American Journal of International Law, Vol. 27, No. 1., pp. 130–133.
  • Allen, G. R. and D. R. Robertson. 1996. An annotated checklist of the fishes of Clipperton Atoll, tropical eastern Pacific. Retrieved (2001) from: <>.
  • IFRECOR. 1998. Clipperton. Retrieved (2001) from: <>.
  • Pitman, R. L. and J. R. Jehl, 1998. Geographic variation and reassessment of species limits in the "masked" boobies of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Wilson Bulletin 110:155-170.
  • Restrepo, Laura. La Isla de la Pasión. (A version of the tragic events which took place in Clipperton put in the form of a novel)
  • Sachet, M. H. 1962. Flora and vegetation of Clipperton Island. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. 4th ser., v.31, no.10. The Academy, San Francisco.
  • Skaggs, Jimmy. 1989. Clipperton. A History of the Island the World Forgot. Walker and Company. New York.
  • Snodgrass, R. E. and E. Heller. 1902. The birds of Clipperton and Cocos Islands; Papers from the Hopkins Stanford Galapagos expedition 1898–1899. The Academy, Washington, DC.
  • Tamburini Francesco, La controversia tra Francia e Messico sulla sovranità dell’isola di Clipperton e l’arbitrato di Vittorio Emanuele III (1909–1931), in “Ricordo di Alberto Aquarone, Studi di Storia", Pisa, Edizioni Plus, 2008
  • UNEP/IUCN. 1988. Coral Reefs of the World. Volume 3: Central and Western Pacific. UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies. IUCN/UNEP, Gland, Switzerland, Cambridge, UK, and Nairobi, Kenya.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

North America : Central America : Clipperton Island
Quick Facts
Capital administered by the Minister for Overseas France
Government possession of France
Area 6 km2
Population uninhabited
Time Zone UTC -7

Clipperton Island, also known as Île de la Passion [1] is a small, ring-shaped atoll located 1,120 km southwest of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. It has no permanent residents and is mainly visited by Mexican fishermen and French Navy patrols.


This isolated island was named after John Clipperton, a pirate who made it his hideout early in the 18th century. Annexed by France in 1855, it was seized by Mexico in 1897. Arbitration eventually awarded the island to France, which took possession in 1935. Its former name, Passion Island, was officially given in 1711 by French discoverers and is sometimes still used. Since World War II the island is uninhabited.

Map of Clipperton Island
Map of Clipperton Island

Citizens from outside France need a permit to visit Clipperton Island. It can be obtained from the French High Commission in French Polynesia[2] However, there are obviously no officials on the island to check permits.

By plane

There is no airstrip on Clipperton Island. It could be possible to land an Albatross or float plane in the lagoon.

By boat

There are no conventional tourist trips to Clipperton Island, you will have to go by your own boat or join an expedition. To make the journey there as short as possible, Acapulco is a good port from which to start.

There is no harbor on the island, the only option is to anchor offshore (the south west side has been sited as the best location) and go in using a smaller boat. This can be dangerous since the surf often is very rough as the waves break against the surrounding coral reefs. Leaving the island is even more difficult—it takes a skilled boatsman to time the passage past the reefs to the right moment, between the crashing waves.

The fresh water lagoon in the middle is enclosed and cannot be reached by boat.

Get around

There are no other means of transportation on Clipperton Island than your own feet, and walking on the island is quite difficult. You will encounter two types of surfaces. One is soft sand, which collapses under your feet due to the burrows dug by the island's many crabs. The other surface is made out of hard coral fragments cemented together, covered with loose coral pieces. Watch where you put your feet so you don't step on the wrong piece and get an ankle sprain. If you consider this information a challenge, you may want to try and break the record time for running around the island. The fastest time noted is 1 hour and 17 minutes, by a radio amateur visiting the island in 2000.

Palm trees on Clipperton Island
Palm trees on Clipperton Island
  • Clipperton Rock in the south-east is the first thing you'll see when approaching the atoll. It is a volcanic outcrop, 29 meters high, and the only really elevated place on the island. On the rock you may find the ruins of an old lighthouse, erected by Mexico in 1906. If you're short on scary stories at night, you can think of the last lighthouse keeper, Victoriano Álvarez. After the other males on the island had died in 1917, he found himself alone with 15 women and children. He went mad and started raping and killing, until he himself was killed by one of the women.
  • There are several coconut palm tree groves on the island. At the largest one there are remains of US Navy buildings from WWII. Old machinery and munitions from this time can be found around the island.
  • Two wrecks from Mexican fishing boats, Lily Marie and Oco, are on the shores. Just make sure you don't repeat their mistake.
  • There is a shack remaining of a 1996 NASA radar site, constructed to track a French rocket launch from French Guinea. The rocket malfunctioned and exploded soon after launch, however.
  • Fishing in the waters outside Clipperton Island attracts far more tourists than the island itself. The waters are a habitat for, amongst others, the rare Clipperton Angelfish.
  • Wildlife-watching will be a part of your day whether you like it or not, despite the fact that there are not many species on the island. A few species compensate by their numbers, namely the bright orange crabs that can be counted in thousands, and some species of birds. In total there are 13 bird species on the island, not counting migratory birds. The only mammals on Clipperton Island are rats, brought to the island by wrecked ships.
  • Snorkeling and diving in the waters can be a rewarding experience since there are dolphins around.


Although 115 species of fish have been identified in the territorial waters of Clipperton Island, the only economic activity is tuna fishing. There is speculation, however, that the isolated island may be used as a meeting point for drug traders.

To get gifts for the kids, check out some booby nests. Scientist Lance Milbrand, who stayed on the island for 41 days in 1994, reports that kid's toys and lots of other plastic junk tend to appear on the shore, probably after having been carried across the ocean from other, more crowded beaches. The birds have started incorporating plastic toys in their nests.


Bring your own food or be prepared for a diet of fish and the occasional coconut. Avoid the crabs, since they are poisonous to eat.


You cannot bring too much water - estimate at least around 10 liters per day or even more. The water from the lagoon in the middle is not drinkable.


There are no accommodations on Clipperton Island, you will have to set up your own camp. Bring earplugs since you'll have to cope with the noise from thousands of birds. The hordes of crabs are a real nuisance so prepare your camp accordingly with fencing to keep them out. The rats will be interested too, so move your trash away from your camp and keep your tent closed. You don't want to get bitten by a diseased rat when you're on a deserted island.

Stay safe

The heat, the sun and the lack of water will be your worst enemies, so bring enough to drink, plenty of sunscreen and some good sunglasses against the bright light. Also be aware that the island is subject to extremely heavy rain and vicious tropical storms.


France has an official postcode for Clipperton Island: 98799. It would be unwise to rely on mail though, so bringing your own radio equipment is highly recommended. Radio amateurs have previously made expeditions to the island.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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