Navassa Island is a small, uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea, claimed as an unorganized unincorporated territory of the United States, which administers it through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Haiti, which has claimed sovereignty over Navassa since 1801, also claims the island in its constitution.
Navassa became significant again with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Shipping between the American eastern seaboard and the Canal goes through the passage between Cuba and Haiti. Navassa, which had always been a hazard to navigation, needed a lighthouse. The U.S. Lighthouse Service built a 162 foot tower on the island in 1917, 395 feet above sea level. A keeper and two assistants were assigned to live there.
In 1913, the Congress provided funds to build a lighthouse on Navassa to safeguard the increased number of ships passing the area following the opening of the Panama Canal. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed in 1916 that, pursuant to the United States' original claim under the Guano Islands Act of 1856 and subsequent congressional action in the Appropriation Act of 1913 providing for the construction of a lighthouse, Navassa was reserved for "lighthouse purposes . . . deemed necessary in the public interest."
The extinct Navassa Island iguana was a large species. Maximum known size of adult females was 378 mm SVL, and maximum size of adult males was 420 mm SVL. This species was found only on Navassa Island, a small island off the west coast of Haiti. Nothing is known about the natural history of this iguana. It has been thought to be extinct for well over 50 years. Introduced feral animals, hunting, guano mining, and military occupation have all been blamed for the Navassa Island iguana's demise.
Americans wanted the guano because it made terrific fertilizer. People went all over the world looking for it. Duncan transferred his discoverer's rights to his employer, an American guano trader in Jamaica, who sold them to the just-formed Navassa Phosphate Company in Baltimore. After an interruption for the U.S. Civil War, the Company built larger mining facilities on Navassa with barrack housing for 140 African-American contract laborers from Maryland, houses for white supervisors, a blacksmith shop, warehouses, and a church. Mining began in 1865. The workers dug out the guano by dynamite and pick-axe and hauled it in rail cars to the landing point at Lulu Bay, where it was sacked and lowered onto boats for transfer to the Company barque, the S.S. Romance. Railway tracks eventually extended inland.
Navassa is a pear-shaped island in the Caribbean Sea between Haiti and Jamaica about 100 miles south of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The land area of Navassa exceeds two square miles and the island is marked by imposing limestone cliffs on all sides, rising 10 to 150 feet above sea level. It is almost completely surrounded by a reef that impedes access to it except through a narrow gap.
The island became a hazard for navigation with the increased shipping traffic between Haiti and Cuba when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. The U.S. Lighthouse Service built a 162 foot-high lighthouse on the southern side of the island in 1917.
Navassa's history resumed in 1857 when Peter Duncan, an American sea captain, landed and claimed the island for the United States under the Guano Act. The U.S. Congress had passed this act the year before, declaring that any unclaimed and uninhabited island anywhere in the world that possessed guano, ie. bird droppings in various stages of petrification, was U.S. territory if an American citizen claimed it first. The purpose of the Act was to protect U.S. claims to uninhabited guano islands. Navassa had one million tons of guano and became the third island to be acquired under this law. Haiti protested the annexation and claimed the island, which lies forty miles west of its southern peninsula, but the U.S. rejected the Haitian claim.
U.S. government officials initially displayed limited interest in the island of Hispaniola and its neighboring territories. Under the 1856 Guano Islands Act, in which the U.S Congress authorized U.S sailors to claim every abandoned land with substantial depositions of bird dung, the United States claimed Navassa Island, off the coast of Haiti, in 1857 and then exploited guano until the late nineteenth century.
The recorded history of Navassa Island (originally called Navaza in Spanish) began in 1504 when Christopher Columbus, stranded on Jamaica, sent some crew members to Hispaniola by canoe for help. The canoes ran into the island on the way but it didn't have any water. Mariners avoided the place for the next 350 years.
Navassa Island is located in the Caribbean Sea, 99.4 mi (160 km) south of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba, between Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica. The island has a total area of 2.01 sq mi (5.2 sq km). It was claimed for the U.S. in 1857 under the Guano Act. The Navassa Phosphate Company mined the island until 1900, enlisting hundreds of freed American slaves to dig out several tons of guano. Working conditions were so brutal that the laborers revolted in 1889, killing their supervisors. The island is also claimed by Haiti.