Isles of Amnesia: The History, Geography, and Restoration of America's Forgotten Pacific Islands

Paperback: $24.99
ISBN-13: 9780824846794
Published: January 2016

Additional Information

288 pages | 70+ illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • For over a quarter century, biologist Mark J. Rauzon 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. Illustrated with over seventy historical photographs and original drawings, this much-needed work tells the fascinating story of America’s forgotten Pacific islands.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Mark J. Rauzon, Author

      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 and Endorsements
    • Rauzon is an adept and accomplished storyteller. Beautifully written, this well-illustrated book will have a wide appeal because, as its subtitle states, it covers the history and geography as well as attempts, some more successful than others, to restore and protect the once abundant birdlife and wider ecologies of these islands. . . . Rauzon brings a compassionate lens to the sad process of pest destruction, for the pests do not know they are such and did not ask to be invaders. While ecologies change with or without human input, he highlights too the hazards of attempting complete restoration. . . . Such work is praiseworthy, as indeed is this book.
      —Judith A. Bennett, The Journal of Pacific History
    • The primary strength of this volume is its page-turning readability. . . . Biologists and ecologists emerge as the heroes in chapter after chapter of engaging anecdotes. They are shown to be working passionately and tirelessly, often against astronomical odds, to protect seabirds against both human activity and the multiple environmental damages wreaked by climate change, including rising sea levels, ocean acidification and coral reef decline. Maritime historians will undoubtedly enjoy this entertaining read as it covers a large expanse of space and time from a perspective sympathetic to the challenges faced by western-trained experts attempting to do their finest in sometimes hostile environments.
      —Anne Perez Hattori, The International Journal of Maritime History, 29:2
    • [Mark Rauzon] is a talented writer, and the book reads like a mesmerizing travelogue in the style of a Bill Bryson caper. Rauzon’s lively prose does justice to the remote landscapes of his sundry assignments. . . . Although this book is not primarily concerned with the history of the American Insular Pacific, Rauzon punctuates his narrative with a sprawling cast of characters who hail from various times and places. We read testimonials from (and about) imperial explorers, missionaries, whaling captains, Native Hawaiian guano miners, Japanese prisoners of war, Thai Buddhists meditating on Wake Island, Samoan wildlife officers, Secretary of State William Seward, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, and filmmaker James Cameron. . . . The term “amnesia” implies forgetting, but Isles of Amnesia is a memorable book.
      —Edward D. Melillo, Amherst College, Environmental History, 23:3 (July 2018)
    • The scope of the book is impressive: ranging geographically from Polynesia to Micronesia; historically, from early European sea voyagers, such as, Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, to the ultramodern submersible that lowered famed film-maker James Cameron to the plunging depths of the Mariana Trench in 2012; and, in scale, from the contained world of the hermit crab crawling out from under a log to global concerns, such as, climate change. . . . One of the most compelling aspects of his book is his explication of the ethical dilemmas that are faced in the work of exterminating introduced life forms calamitous to vulnerable endemic species and fragile ecosystems. . . . Rauzon’s passion for the islands and the life they harbor is evident. His humorous anecdotes and accessible writing style make his book a pleasurable read, one in which these “isles of amnesia” are vividly remembered.
      —Rachana Agarwal, Pacific Affairs, 90:3
    • The greatest value of Rauzon’s work is the manner in which he wrestles with repairing damages caused by governments in places far beyond the mainstream. . . . 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.
      CHOICE
    • 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).
      —Pamela Frierson, Environment Hawai‘i
    • [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, 11:2 (November 2016)
    • 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