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New Tonga island 'now home to flowers and owls' (bbc.co.uk)
181 points by asplake 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments





The flower is most probably Beach Morning Glory, Ipomoea pes-caprae. Pes-cabrae means literally "goat's foot" (shape of the leaves) so is also called Goat's foot creeper and bayhops.

A good early coloniser and stabilizer of sand dunes in that case. Is not transported by animals as is said in the article; the plant is salt tolerant with floating seeds, able to cross the ocean alone with the sea currents

Ipomoea are normally poisonous (not eaten by most animals) but this species has some medicinal uses. Used as poultice from Brazil to Australia to alleviate cuts, it seems.

There is a second species also. Monocot in this case. I'm not able to identify it with that photo but Spinifex would be my first try (even better to fight against erosion and keep the soil in place).

Fascinating history.


"Ipomoea are normally poisonous ..."

Note that Ipomoea batatas is sweet potato is a staple throughout the world and is very delicious, especially the purple-skinned, cream-fleshed variety. The young leaves can also be cooked and eaten.


Yes, is an exception to the rule, hence the "normally".

Convolvulaceae is a sister family to Solanaceae, and share their fondness for making some pretty evil alkaloids. Ipomoea (and other related genus) work often with lysergic acid derivatives. From LSD to vasoconstrictor or even gangrenous substances.


Being from Florida, when I saw the image I thought "of course it's going to be morning glory".

For fans of new islands, Surtsey (date of birth 1963) is another example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surtsey. The speed at which life colonised the island is quite amazing.

"An improperly handled human defecation resulted in a tomato plant taking root which was also destroyed."

One of my sister in laws is a civil engineer who does a lot of work with sewage treatment plants. She has commented that apparently tomato seeds can survive almost anything.

That’s not special to tomato seed. In fact, fruits being eaten and seeds defecated by animals in far out lands is why seeds are in the sweet, tasty, sugary fruits for the most part!

I assume I'm not the only one who thought of that explorer song from "Moana" when they read the headline.

It's incredible that this happens within the course of a human lifetime. It really puts the sense-of-wonder behind all those Polynesian myths and stories in perspective.


https://www.natuurmonumenten.nl/projecten/marker-wadden/engl...

Here's another example of an ambitious project in the Netherlands to create an artificial archipelago in the former Zuiderzee, which has been a lake for nearly a century.


> and is already nurturing pink flowering plants, sooty tern birds, and even barn owls

I was surprised to learn recently that Barn Owls are one of the most prevalent avian species across the whole world:

>> The barn owl is the most widespread landbird species in the world, occurring in every continent except Antarctica. Its range includes all of Europe (except Fennoscandia and Malta), most of Africa apart from the Sahara, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, many Pacific Islands, and North, Central and South America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_owl#Distribution


What do they eat? Other birds? Or does the presence of owls indicate the presence of small rodents?

Mostly small mammals but also small reptiles and insects. In this case I think it is likely to be the latter.

To give you some idea of how widespread this species is, there are Barn Owls on the Desertas Islands, (SE of Madeira), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desertas_Islands. These islands are as dry as the name suggests and are little more than rock with short grass. There is a plentiful supply of (introduced) mice and lizards however.

For a species that (supposedly) does not disperse very far from their natal area, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/German_Lopez-Iborra/pub..., they certainly get around.

Next stop Antarctica.


It'll be interesting to see if vegetation takes hold quickly enough to prevent rapid erosion.

Seems like that won't be the case. Article mentioned that the island was eroding more quickly than expected due to rain.

There's currently not much vegetation, so "It'll be interesting to see if vegetation takes hold quickly enough to prevent rapid erosion."

What would be the argument against helping flora and fauna a bit? to seed plants to that island, that are native to the surrounding Tonga Islands - and helping its eco system speed up development a bit?

I don't know if anyone really gains from speeding up the process. On the flip-side, science can benefit by watching the process play out naturally.

Here's a related article about scientists learning about water erosion on Mars by observing the island from afar: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-42169466


Mostly that it ruins the opportunity to study how this happens naturally.

Also it's kinda silly. There is no shortage of natural nature.


I wouldn't say no shortage, with rainforests and forests being depleted in the tropics around the world.

we're generally not very good at environmental engineering - you wouldn't want to accidentally introduce an imbalance that caused unintended negative effects. Nature on the other hand is rather self-balancing if left alone.

Not at island preservation over long periods of time, apparently. Seems like the islands we have are explained by largely by survivorship bias

Of course nature is destructive too, but I think we overestimate how much we understand ecosystems.

From the previous article on this island, it was not expected to last this long, and now if I'm remembering correctly it's not expected to last more than 30 years. It may just be better to research what happens naturally for the time it's around.

Apparently it was only expected to survive a couple of months originally (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-14/new-tongan-volcano-be...).

If we purposefully colonized it I'd like to know if we could make it permanent. It's not very often you get the chance to restore some rain-forest without pissing somebody off, even if it is a small token effort.


Says the animals likely came from 'nearby islands'. But the Sooty Tern flies halfway around the world, routinely. Maybe just a throwaway remark, but those birds can come from anywhere.

Is that the African, or European Sooty Tern?

African Sooty Terns are non-migratory.

I see. And what is the air speed velocity of an unladen African Sooty Tern?

I think I know where this is going, and you're going about it all wrong.

You see, it would have to weave the coconuts together with saliva and fiber strands from the husks, like a floating nest-raft. Then it would have to ride the southbound East Australia side of the south Pacific gyre to the Antarctic circumpolar, get off at the northbound Benguela side of the south Atlantic gyre, cross west on the equatorial currents, and catch the northbound Gulf Stream side of the north Atlantic gyre, and bear left at the North Atlantic Drift. Then it would have to bear right at the Outer Hebrides, shoot between Orkney and Shetland, and try to make landfall at Norfolk. It could raise its wings in favorable winds, or flap around a bit in still air. Certainly doable for an experienced seabird.


Surely it would stop for a bit in Shetland to take in the scenery, go to a festival and a few gigs?

Too many gannets. They wet their nests.

This island is contiguous with an old island, so it's a definitional matter if it's new or an expansion of the old one.

If such an island appears outside of any country's territorial waters, who gets to claim ownership of the island?

Depends on how much oil there is.


Whoever gets there first? finders keepers.

First one to plant a flag in it. As always.

First one to plant and successfully defend a flag.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minerva_Reefs#Republic_of_Mine...



I wonder how much time until the ocean dumps some plastic waste on those beaches

Looks like there's trash on the beach in the last photo in the article.

full-size image: https://blogs.nasa.gov/earthexpeditions/wp-content/uploads/s...


But that's the crater in the middle! So that must've been there when it erupted. Though it could have washed in with a big wave.

That was fast



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