Line Islands


Vostok Island lies 605 nautical miles south of the equator. It is about 325 miles east-northeast of Tongareva (Penrhyn) Island, 86 miles north-northwest of Flint Island, 125 miles west of Caroline Island (Millennium Island), 385 miles south-southeast of Malden Island, and 800 miles northwest of Rarotonga.   

It is a triangular, low sand and coral island, about 1,400 yards long, north and south, and not over 15 feet high to the land surface. The central part of the island is covered by a continuous thicket of buka (Pisonia) trees, which reach a height of about 80 feet above the sea. This type of vegetation is very distinctive, being found also on Rose Islet. The canopy is so dense that no other plants will grow beneath the buka trees. The soil is rich in humus, from decaying leaves and branches, damp about the bases of the soft, massive trunks. 

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Between the trees and the shore is a gravel beach, its inner part with low, scattered purslane herbs. Around the shore is a platform reef, a hundred yards or more wide, awash at low water. At the three corners the reef runs out into points, beyond which submerged reefs extend out 400 to 500 yards from shore. On the weather side the surf breaks heavily.

There is no good anchorage, and landing may be difficult. A narrow break in the reef, just north of the southwest corner, allows a small boat to reach shore when the sea is not too rough. Swift currents sweep past the island in a westerly direction, with a small eddy on the lee side.

The island is uninhabited. Sea birds nest in the buka trees and around the inner part of the gravel beach. there are the usual hermit crabs, lizards, and a few insects. Fish are fairly abundant near the reef.

The island was discovered by Captain F. von Bellingshausen, August 3, 1820. He named it for his vessel, variously spelled Wostok, Vostok, Vostock, Wostock, and Bostock. He did not land, nor does he give much description of the island.

During 1821 the island was sighted by Captain Stavers, in the ship Tuscan, and Captain Thornton, in the ship Supply. Captain Joshua Coffin, of the whale ship Ganges, called it Reaper Island in 1828. It was called Leavitts Island by the ship Peruvian.

On February 8, 1841, the U.S. Exploring Expedition's brig Porpoise, in command of Lieutenant-Commander Cadwalader Ringgold, examined the island, but reported landing as impossible. In his narrative of the expedition, Commodore Charles Wilkes called it Stavers Island, and also stated that he believed it to be the island seen by Captain Cash of the ship Massachusetts.

Despite the many reports of no landing place, H.M.S. Constance effected a landing on October 22, 1884, for Lieutenant J.R.H. MacFarlane collected specimens and eggs of a small black-checked noddy on the island.

No great difficulty in landing was experienced by Captain William Greig Anderson in 1935. He collected a specimen of the Pisonia tree for Bishop Museum on March 22, 1935, and made a sketch map of the island in May, when south on the motor sampan Islander.

In the list of islands claimed by American guano diggers, under the Guano Act of August, 1856, this island appears twice, as Stavers and as Anne Island. No guano is known to have been dug by them, however.

According to last reports, Vostok Island is leased to an Auckland (New Zealand) firm, S.R. Maxwell and Co., Ltd., but apparently no use is being made of it.

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 1st June 2012)