In the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, there is a small island named Banaba belonging to a scattered group of islands called the Gilberts. Before European contact, Banaba was a beautiful coral island rich in animal and plant life and with a thriving community that shared close links to people of Kiribati.
In 1900, a New Zealand prospector named Albert Ellis working for the Pacific Islands Company discovered that the surface of Banaba was made of petrified guano that had over the years metamorphosed into high grade Phosphate rock. Around the same time, phosphate in Nauru was also discovered. Nauru being a German territory at the time, and Banaba a British protectorate, the Pacific Islands Company joined hands with a mining company based on Hamburg and formed a new company—the Pacific Phosphate Company (PPC) to engage in phosphate mining in Nauru and Banaba, then known as Ocean Island.
The serrated surface of the island of Banaba—the result of 80 years of mining. Photo credit: Janice Cantieri