Ile Saint Paul (St. Paul Island)

December 23, 2011, 7:09 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
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Source: L'Institut polaire fran├žais

Ile Saint Paul (St. Paul Island) is an island in the southern Indian Ocean and part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.

It is located approximately 80 km from Île Amsterdam (also  Amsterdam Island or New Amsterdam).  Among the most remote islands in the world, Amsterdam and Saint-Paul are more than 3,000 km from any continent, situated between Antarctica, Africa, and Australia.

Ile Saint-Paul is an inactive volcano. Saint-Paul is only 7 km2, and reaching an altitude of 272 m. Saint-Paul’s volcanic crater is striking; it is flooded and open to the sea on one side, creating an enclosed harbor with cliffs rising vertically from the water.

Claimed by France since 1893, the island was a fishing industry center from 1843 to 1914.

In 1928, a spiny lobster cannery was established, but when the company went bankrupt in 1931, seven workers were abandoned. Only two survived until 1934 when rescue finally arrived.

It is uninhabited but is frequently visited by fishermen and has a scientific research cabin for short stays.

Source: Landsat 7. Nasa Applied Sciences Directorate, John C. Stennis Space Center


Geographic Coodinates: 38 72 S, 77 53 E

Area: 7 sq km


Maritime claims:  territorial sea: 12 nm exclusive

Climate: oceanic with persistent westerly winds and high humidity

Approximately 500 km north of the Antarctic convergence, Amsterdam and Saint-Paul have a moderate oceanic climate. Surface seawater temperature varies from 12.7°C in August to 17.4°C in February. Air temperatures vary from 11.2°C in August to 17°C in February, with an annual average of 13.5°C. Relative humidity is generally high due to the frequency of low cloud ceilings, and ranges from 80% in March to 82.9% in November. Rainfall is high with an annual average of 1,114 millimeters (mm) distributed over 239 days and falling primarily as rain. Hail or snow is observed in winter but seldom at low altitudes. December through March is drier (78 mm per month) than April to November (100 mm per month).

Terrain: the island is the top of a volcano, rocky with steep cliffs on the eastern side; has active thermal springs. The highest point is an unnamed location(272 m).

Natural Resources: fish, crayfish

Land Use:  100% grass, ferns, and moss

Source: Wikipedia


The vegetation of Saint-Paul island is similar to that of the larger Amsterdam Island, though with less altitudinal variation and without the presence of the Phylica tree. Grass and tussock grass occur on dry, lower slopes, sedges grow in wetter areas, and the rocky shores of the island are generally covered by introduced, invasive species.

The flora of Amsterdam Island is patterned in clearly marked vegetation types according to altitude. The lowland area originally supported a native Phylica forest mixed with ferns such as Elaphoglosum succaesifolium, Gleichenia polipodioides, and Ploystichum adiantiforme. Also present were flowering plants (Plantago stauntoni, Acaena sanguisorbae) and liverworts (Marchantia spp.), and glades were characterized by rushes (Scirpus nodosus and Juncus australe). This was broken by the high coastal cliffs to the Southwest, where two grasses (Poa novarae and Spartina arundinacea) and a rush (Scirpus nodosus) were dominant. Highland slopes were characterized by an association of clubmoss (Lycopodium trichiatum), a fern (Gleichemia polypodioides), and flowering plants (Poa fuegiana, Acaena seurguisarbae, Scirpus aucklandicus, Uncinia brevicaulis, and Trisetum insulare). Ranunculus biternatus and Callitriche antarctica grew in the few areas with running water. The peat-bog of the central plateau, "Plateau des Tourbieres", persists much as it was before human interference; it is characterized by mosses growing in association with Lycopodium saurusus, Scirpus aucklandicus, Trisetum insulare, and Uncinia compacta.

Biodiversity Features

Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands are typical of many isolated island ecosystems, in that there is a paucity of species in conjunction with a high rate of endemism. The original high endemism of Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands’ avifauna was likely a result of its unique biogeographical position. Not only are the islands very isolated, they also have the added factor of being located near sub-Antarctic islands, but in subtropical waters. Species likely emigrated from the colder islands, and then underwent speciation adapting to the markedly different environment of warmer waters. The Tristan da Cunha-Gough Islands lie at the same latitude in the Atlantic Ocean, though oceanic currents result in their waters being colder and not much different than nearby subantarctic islands. Thus, this island group had a lower original endemism rate of seabirds as adaptations were less necessary there than at Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands.

The original native fauna of Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands was quite unique before the arrival of humans. Fossil records show that Amsterdam Island avifauna until recently comprised a likely 22 species. There are currently only 10 or 11 breeding seabird species, of which 4 are extremely rare. The endemic Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) is one of the worlds rarest species of avifauna, found only on Amsterdam Island; this remnant population is restricted to the upland Plateau des Tourbières and has only 10 pairs breeding in any single year. Individuals breed every other year, and the entire population of Diomedea amsterdamensis is estimated at only 70 individuals. Thus, this species is considered to be under serious threat of extinction. Macgillivray’s race of Salvin’s prion (Pachyptila salvini macgillivrayi) is an subspecies endemic to the ecoregion with less than 200 breeding pairs. Once very abundant on Amsterdam and Saint-Paul, Pachyptila salvini macgillivrayi, with its distinct wide blue beak, has significantly decreased in number on Amsterdam Island. The species has also retreated to breed on Roche Quille (150-200 pairs), a small rock offshore of Saint-Paul that is safe from predators. One of the most abundant species on the islands is the yellow-nose albatross (Diomedia chlororhynchos). This ecoregion supports approximately 80% of the world’s population, or about 37,000 breeding pairs. Other residents of the islands are sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca) (240 pairs), remnant populations of soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis) and grey petrel (Procellaria cinera), antarctic tern (Sterna vittata tristanensis), brown skua (Catharacta lonnbergi), and common waxbill (Estrilda astrild) (introduced 1977-1985). Of the species that disappeared, four were probably endemic; these were a flightless duck and a storm-petrel, both undescribed, and likely two petrels of the genera Pterodroma and Procellaria.

Another resident of this island group is the rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome moseleyi). Rockhoppers in the northernmost breeding region of Amsterdam, Saint-Paul and Tristan-Gough Islands form the distinct moseleyi subspecies, which have longer crests than their colder climate relatives. Quite an unusual looking creature, these penguins have orange-red bills and bright red eyes in addition to their elaborate yellow and black crests.

Seals have long used Amsterdam and Saint-Paul Islands, and were once so numerous that reports stated that their multitudes made landing impossible. The sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) continues to breed on the islands, and had an estimated 20,000 adults in 1981. While the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) no longer breeds on the islands, its numbers have been increasing. Elephant seals exhibit the greatest sexual dimorphism among all mammals in regard to weight, with males weighing up to five tons whereas females only rarely weigh over one ton. Both seals were approaching extinction on Amsterdam Island at the beginning of the 20th century but have been recovering since protections were put in place and are now re-established all over the island.

Types and Severity of Threats

Though the impact of fishing activity and pollutants in the vicinity of Amsterdam and Saint-Paul is small due to their extreme isolation, any future increases are a concern. Too large to fall prey to cats, the primary threat to the yellow-nosed albatross is mortality from longline fishing. Studies have concluded that any new long-line fishery operating in the foraging range of the Amsterdam albatross might rapidly put the species at a higher risk of extinction.

Further Reading

  • Carroll, P. 2001. Amsterdam & St Paul Islands, South Indian Ocean]. Retrieved 2001.
  • Georges, J. Y. 1999. Amsterdam Island. Retrieved 2001.
  • Guinet, C, Jouventin, P, and Georges, J-Y. 1994. Long term population changes of fur seals Arctocephalus gazella and Arctocephalus tropicalis on subantarctic (Crozet) and subtropical (St. Paul and Amsterdam) islands and their possible relationship to El Nino southern oscillation. Antarctic Science 6:473-478.
  • Inchausti, Pablo and Weimerskirch, Henri. 2001. Risks of decline and extinction of the endangered Amsterdam albatross and the projected impact of long-line fisheries. Biological Conservation 100:377-386.
  • Jouventin, P. 1994. Past, present and future of Amsterdam Island, Indian Ocean. Pages 122-132 in D. N. Nettleship, J. Burger, and M. Gochfeld, editors. Seabirds on islands: threats, case studies and action plans. BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series no. 1)., Cambridge, U.K. ISBN: 094688823X
  • Micol, Thierry and Jouventin, Pierre. 1995. Restoration of Amsterdam Island, south Indian Ocean, following control of feral cattle. Biological Conservation 73:199-206.
  • UNEP. 1998. United Nations Environment Programme - [Island Directory. Retrieved 2001.


Fund, W. (2011). Ile Saint Paul (St. Paul Island). Retrieved from


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