How Charles Darwin Terraformed a Barren Rock

Ascension Island, a British overseas territory in the south Atlantic, was originally a nearly-lifeless, uninhabited rock. It had no freshwater except for rainfall which quickly evaporated. But in an experiment, Charles Darwin and his friend Joseph Hooker introduced non-native plants that they hoped would encourage water retention. The result is that today Ascension Island has lush, vibrant forests:

Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens - where Hooker's father was director - shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.


Link via Radley Balko | Photo of Ascension Island by Flickr user Drew Avery used under Creative Commons license

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So THAT'S what Ascention is! I was looking through shipping rates and regulations yesterday, and Ascention kept coming up under every restricted substance on the list.
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Had it existed then, the Green movement would have opposed this, possibly even by uprooting the introduced plants. How dare Darwin tamper with the settled order of nature!
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But we did work on fixing it.

Makes me think of the Great Lakes. In the late '70s, they were practically sludge... but concerted effort has re-shaped them to be like they once were.

I only hope we can do that with the rest of the world we've messed with.
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Not to be a down but Wikipedia says:

"The island originally had its own native flora until Portuguese explorers released goats in the 1500s which ate much of it. The later introduction of rabbits, sheep, rats and donkeys, and over 200 imported species further marginalized the original flora. [14] By 1843 the island was barren with few plants."

So it's not like it was inhospitable. We messed it up and then we tried to fix it and were mildly successful.
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