Though Curaçao’s little, uninhabited, sister island – called Klein Curaçao (klein means “little”) – is well known as a popular day-trip destination for snorkelers and divers, its history is something of a mystery to most who visit.
There’s not much to see on the barren, scrubby island save an ancient crumbling lighthouse and the massive rusty wreck of the oil tanker Maria Bianca Guidesman. But throughout the ages, the little rock has hosted some surprising guests.
During the slave era, the island was used as a quarantine station. Later, mainland farmers used it as grazing land for goats. The island was once very fertile, but the goats made quick work of that. The loss of grass coverage combined with seabird guano (as the island was always an important nesting site), created phosphate, a much coveted material in the late 1800s. In 1871, Englishman John Godden saw an opportunity to profit from the phosphate and mined it unimpeded until the island was completely barren.
Perhaps the most surprising past occupants of this little rock were the Germans. In 1888, the Dutch did not seem to mind when German naval engineers descended on the island intent on building a naval shipyard and using it as a base for a Deutsche Karibik, a German Caribbean Colony. The project never came to fruition, however, as tropical storms washed away the foundations of the new wharf and the Germans ran out of money to fund reconstruction.
Today, besides the day-trippers, the virgin white-sand beaches of Klein Curaçao still attract nesting sea turtles who return as they have for thousands of years.
by Susan Campbell