Phosphate was discovered on Nauru in 1900. From independence from Britain and Australia in 1968, until the 1990s, Nauru earned a fortune exporting its phosphate for fertiliser. They gave up their jobs and brought in migrants to do the digging. Families who had never left the island would charter aircraft to take them on shopping expeditions in Hawaii, Fiji and Singapore. Sports cars were imported, despite the fact that Nauru has only one paved road and the speed limit is 25mph. The income from phosphate was placed into the Nauru Phosphate Trust.
Failed investments of the Nauru Phosphate Trust included financing Leonardo the Musical in 1993, The Mercure Hotel in Sydney, and Nauru House in Melbourne. Air Nauru's only Boeing 737 was repossessed in December 2005.
The phosphate reserves on Nauru are now almost entirely depleted. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 15 metres high. Mining has stripped and devastated about 80 percent of Nauru's land area, and 40 percent of marine life is estimated to have been killed by silt and phosphate runoff. For a few years, Nauru tried to sell itself as a tax haven which lead to accusations of illegal money laundering. It was also involved in the sale of passports. Nauruans are the most obese people in the world; 97 percent of men and 93 percent of women are overweight or obese. Nauru currently lacks money to perform many of the basic functions of government. The National Bank of Nauru is insolvent.
From 2001 to 2007, the Nauru detention centre provided a significant source of income for the country. The Nauruan authorities reacted with concern to its closure by Australia. The detention centre was re-opened in August 2012.
Images by Vlad Sokhin. He studied photography at IADE in Lisbon.
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— Nicholas Petersen
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