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)
Arthur Boycott borrowed a copy of Dr William B Carpenter’s The Microscope and its Revelations from Hereford Library in 1886 or thereabouts. His granddaughter, Alice Gillett, just returned it. The £7,446 late fine was waived, reports the BBC. Mrs Gillett discovered the book while she was sorting through a collection of 6,000 books following the […]
Neil Gaiman writes: “A little over a year ago I released my rarest, earliest, and hardest to find work — books and comics — through Humble Bundle to fund charities that do good work. People were all so generous and enthusiastic that we broke records. More importantly, they made it possible for the Comic Book […]
I knew I was going to love writing a book about Bill Murray — but I didn’t realize that my favorite part of the whole process would be my collaboration with a comics genius.
The Black Friday Mac Bundle 2.0 is one of the Boing Boing Store’s best-selling Mac bundles yet, and it’s about to come to an end. If you don’t get your copy now, here’s what you’ll be missing:This bundle comes packing 9 top-rated Mac apps in one package, at the hugely discounted price of just $23.99. […]
The Boing Boing Store’s Gift Guide is full of ideas for pretty much anyone in your life like hipster ice cub trays, Xbox controllers, Halo Boards, and even diamond necklaces. As always, all products in the Boing Boing Store come at great discounts, too. Shop by price bucket starting at under $20. Under $20:Bloxx Jumbo Ice Trays […]
Unlike traditional lighters, the SaberLight features an electronic plasma beam that’s both rechargeable and butane-free. This sleek lighter is even approved by TSA, so you’ll never be stuck buying lighters you’ll just have to throw away partially used. For some people, like me, this is a pretty big game-changer. The SaberLight’s beam is actually both hotter and cleaner […]