If you discover an island covered in guano -- old poop -- an 1856 Federal law that's still on the books obliges the US of A to defend your claim to it.
The Guano Act of 1856 dates to an era when old poo was of national interest as a vital source of fertilizer, and it's documented in Kevin Underhill's delightful compendium of weird laws, The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance (review, excerpt).
In short, the act allowed any citizen to claim an island on behalf of the United States, as long as that island was uninhabited and covered in bird poop.
Did anyone take advantage of that? They sure did. More than 100 islands around the globe were claimed this way, including Midway Island and about 99 islands you’ve never heard of. (This was a bigger deal than you might think, legally, because the precedent led to the whole concept of “unincorporated territories” or “insular areas” over which the U.S. exercises jurisdiction, but in which the Constitution does not fully apply.) The U.S. has given up any claims on most of those, but it still claims a handful and in fact actively opposes at least one claim by another nation (Haiti).
Can you take advantage of the Guano Islands Act today? You sure can. See 48 U.S.C. § 1411-19. In fact, somebody tried to use it as recently as 1997, trying for some reason to claim Navassa Island (the one near Haiti). But in Warren v. United States, the court held that Navassa has “appertained to” the U.S. since 1857, and the U.S. has never given it up. The real question, why anybody in his right mind would want Navassa Island, a waterless hellhole from which all the dung has already been mined, was not addressed.
The Guano Islands Act
(Image: Smelly Penguins, Salim Fadhley, CC-BY-SA)
Evan Palmer’s reverent watercolors capture the verbal harmonies and surprising glories of J.R.R. Tolkien’s origin story for the universe he created.
Shortly after George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he received a letter from his onetime high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had published Brave New Work 17 years earlier. Here are Huxley’s comments, via Letters of Note: Wrightwood. Cal. 21 October, 1949 Dear Mr. Orwell, It was very kind of you to tell […]
Leonard Richardson isn’t just the author of Constellation Games, one of the best debut novels I ever read and certainly one of the best books I read in 2013; he’s also an extremely talented free/open source server-software developer who has been working for the New York Public Library on a software project that liberates every […]
If you’re running low on MacBook storage, your options are pretty limited. External hard drives mean toting around another piece of bulky equipment, and you probably don’t want a USB stick constantly protruding from your laptop.That’s why the Nifty MiniDrive for MacBooks is such a desirable alternative, and one of our top tech finds this year. You can add […]
Next time you forget a birthday or anniversary, take our advise and try out The Bouqs Company. We discovered this rapidly growing flower company last year, and its quick delivery and beautiful bouquets have come through every time.For $35, you can get $50 worth of flowers, which The Bouqs Company cuts from sustainable farms. This allows them to […]
If you’ve ever seen a drone video, you know the footage blows traditional pictures and GoPro footage out of the water. And if you’re like us, you’ve been itching to get your hands on a drone of your own ever since. We fly the Code Black Drone with HD Camera because it’s both a quality camera drone, and […]