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Isles of AmnesiaIsles of Amnesia

The History, Geography, and Restoration of America's Forgotten Pacific Island

Mark J. Rauzon


Book published by University of Hawai'i Press


For over a quarter century, biologist Mark J. Rauzon has worked in the field of island restoration, traveling throughout the American Insular Pacific to eradicate invasive plants and animals introduced by humans. The region spans from Hawai‘i to Samoa to Guam, and their neighbors—small, obscure tropical islands that are hundreds, if not thousands, of nautical miles from each other. These little-known US possessions and territories include various islands and atolls: Jarvis, Howland, Baker, the Northern Marianas, Wake, Palmyra, Johnston, and Rose Atoll, among others. They anchor a vast National Marine Monument program created in 2009, and expanded in 2014, to protect the largest area in the world from exploitation.

In Isles of Amnesia, Rauzon chronicles the ecological and human history of these islands, enlivened with his first-hand experiences of eradication efforts to restore atoll ecosystems and maximize native biodiversity. Each chapter focuses on an individual island or island group, revealing how each location has its own particular story, secret past, or ecological lesson to be shared. Taken as a whole, the region has played a unique role in American history, with the remoteness of the islands having served the needs of whalers and guano miners in the 1800s and, in later years, that of military secret projects, missile launching, chemical weapon incinerations, and air bases. Rauzon further explores the creation of the National Marine Monuments and what their protection means to a changing ocean, and presents original research about the US military’s Pacific Project and germ warfare testing. This much-needed work tells the fascinating story of America’s forgotten Pacific islands.

Mark J. Rauzon is professor of geography at Laney College in Oakland, California. He is also a seabird biologist specializing in the effects and eradication of invasive animals and plants on tropical islands.

REVIEWS:

Isles of Amnesia is an interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining read based on many decades of experience in these unique places. It is also a good resource for scholars interested in these lightly-studied islands. Furthermore, the book is especially useful for those interested in how landscape and ecological change happens quickly in these isolated places surrounded by vast oceans.”

Island Studies Journal

Isles of Amnesia is an intimate portrait of islands that have served as way stations for an amazing range of human use and abuse, from guano mining to feather poaching to weapons testing, and Rauzon has dug up some fascinating history. This patchwork tale of colorful characters and skullduggery is knit together by the author’s in-the-trenches account of what it’s like to be a conservation biologist ridding damaged islands of their most damaging invasives.... [He] combines a biologist’s acute eye with that of an artist.”

Environment Hawai‘i

“This is excellent. I especially like the history of each location, the elegant and epical descriptions of various tropical settings, the personal experiences, and the occasional voyages to the edge of reality. Readers who enjoy tales based in science, as I do, will find it greatly satisfying. Plus, it has very important conservation implications.”

—Peter Pyle, The Institute for Bird Populations

“In addition to numerous colorful anecdotes about his ecological work, Rauzon has written about the human history of these islands. His frequent digressions, which are deliberate, provide a wealth of information on the natural history of the islands—everything from evolution to ecology to geology to environmental chemistry. His stories raise important ethical issues related to humane treatment of animals that must be eradicated to allow seabirds and other native species to survive. This is an important social controversy today.”

—Sheila Conant, Department of Biology, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa

Isles of Amnesia is an intimate portrait of islands that have served as way stations for an amazing range of human use and abuse, from guano mining to feather poaching to weapons testing, and Rauzon has dug up some fascinating history. This patchwork tale of colorful characters and skullduggery is knit together by the author’s in-the-trenches account of what it’s like to be a conservation biologist ridding damaged islands of their most damaging invasives.... [He] combines a biologist’s acute eye with that of an artist (his wonderful drawings and photographs illustrate Isles of Amnesia).... Rauzon is a terrific storyteller and he is mining a rich vein in portraying these islands, but the supremely important work he has played a part in deserves a fuller treatment.”

—Pamela Frierson, Environment Hawai‘i

“This book provides valuable insight into invasive species management and mismanagement. It is topical, timely, and true to the internal inconsistencies of thoughtful conservation biology.”

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