Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rockall – The Secret Island

Rockall is a small, uninhabited, remote islet located around 300 miles on the west coast of mainland Scotland. It is situated at the rough distances from the closest large island – 430 km North West of Ireland, 460 km west of Great Britain and 700 km south of Iceland.

 It lies within the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone and the nearest permanently inhabited place is the island of North Uist in the Scottish Outer Hebrids, 370 km towards the east. The islet measures over 80 feet wide at the base with a little over 70 feet in height and is the rocky peak of an extinct volcano.

Its earliest record was in 1810 which was made by Basil Hall, an officer who was stationed on HMS Endymion who is reported to have made the first recorded landing on Rockall though its actual position did not seem to be recorded till the year 1831, when chartered by Captain ATE Vidal, a Royal Navy surveyor. Rockall is the eroded core of an extinct volcano and is one of the few pinnacles of the surrounding area of Helen’s Reef.

Rockall – Marine Protected Area

The meaning and origin of Rockall is uncertain. The name of the islet, Old Norse could contain the element `fiall’, which means `mountain’. Moreover it has also been recommended that the name is from the Norse `rok’ which means `foaming sea’ and kollr, meaning `balk head, a word that seems to appear in other places in Scandinavian speaking areas.

Another presumption is that it is derives from Gaelic Sgeir Rocail which means `skerry of roaring’, or `sea rock of roaring’. Cold water coral mounds are found in the region which is presently being studied. These corals are slow in growth and long lived, a justification for designating Rockall and its waters as a Marine Protected Area of the micronation.

Towards late 16th century, the rock had been recorded though it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishermen already knew about the rock before its historical accounts surfaced. In the 20th century, the location of the island drew much interest due to the potential oil as well as fishing rights bringing about continuous debate between several European nations.

Peralkaline Granite – Rich in Sodium & Potassium

The island had also been of interest for adventurers as well as amateur radio operators who had landed briefly on various occasions and occupied the islet. Less than 20 individuals have confirmed landing on Rockall but the longest continuous stay of 42 days was by an individual. Rockall comprises of a type of peralkaline granite which is rich in sodium as well as potassium and within the granite are darker bands which are richer in the alkali pyroxene mineral, aegirine and the alkali amphibole mineral riebeckite.

While the dark bands could be a kind of granite which geologist terms it as rockallite, the use of this term has now been discouraged. Towards 1975, a new mineral surfaced on Rockall which was called bazirite that was named after the element, barium and zirconium.

The island forms part of the deeply eroded Rockall Igneous Centre which was formed as a part of the North Atlantic Igneous Province around 55 million years back when the ancient continent of Laurasia had been divided apart by plate tectonic. Europe and Greenland got separated while the northeast Atlantic Ocean was formed between them.

Marine Molluscs & Common Periwinkles

Common periwinkles and other marine molluscs are the islands’ only permanent macro-organism inhabitants.

Few seabird, like fulmars, northern gannet, black legged kittiwakes and common guillemots, make use of the rock to rest during summer while gannets and guillemots tend to successfully breed occasionally if the summer is calm without any storm waves washing over the rocks.

Overall there have been over twenty species of seabird and six other animal species identified on or near the islet. Surveys conducted in December 2013 by Marine Scotland brought to light four new species of animal in the sea surrounding Rockall and are believed to live in areas where hydrocarbons are released from the sea bed which is known as cold seep.

This discovery has led to the issue of restricting some forms of fishery in order to protect the seabed. Some of the species are Volutopsius scotiae Frussen, McKay & Drewery, 2013, a kind of sea snail around 10 cm long, Thyasira scotiana Zelaya2009, a clam and Isorropodon mackayi, a clam and Antonbruunia sp, a marine worm.

UK & Ireland Published EEZ – Resolved Disputes

United Kingdom had claimed Rockall in the year 1955 and had also claimed previously for an extended exclusive economic zone based on it. The extended zone claim was dropped due to ratifying UNCLOS in 1997 since rocks or islet like Rockall cannot sustain human habitation or even economic life which is not entitled to exclusive economic zone under the Convention.

Moreover these features are entitled to a territorial sea which extends 12 nautical miles and the UK’s claim to territorial water with Rockall was earlier disputed by Ireland based on uncertain ownership of the rock. Effective from March 31, 2014, the UK and Ireland published EEZ limits which helped to resolve any disputes with regards to ownership of the islet.

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