Rehabilitation Ideas - Is it Possible!
An Open Public Forum of Retired BPC Engineers and Environmentalists exchanging ideas


The devestation left by phosphate mining on Banaba


For commercial purposes or publication we ask that copyright approval and acknowledgement  of Author's and source can be quickly obtained through emailing our Office with your request.

 If approval is not sort we will view the matter as an infringement against 'copyright'.  

News clippings remain the copyright of the individual Newspapers concerned -


All material in this Web Site is Copyright © K. Sigrah & S. M. King  2001  All Rights Reserved.

The question of 'Rehabilitating Banaba' was first raised by the late Banaban Elder, Kaiekieki Sigrah, of Rabi Island. Kaiekieki has now passed away but worked for many years as the Banaban Advisor working with B.P.C. Engineers on Banaba Island. His requests for help in 1994 saw the beginnings of the 'REHABILITATION FORUM - Where you voice your ideas!' in our Society's newsletter. The following ideas are excerpts from various issues of the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News' that have already been published. 


Excerpts from the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News'
March/April 1994 - Issue No.8 - Stacey King, Editor, Banaba/Ocean Island News.


'This seems to be the question on everyone's lips, especially with many of our newer readers. When I first started to research the History of Banaba I always dismissed any talk of Rehabilitation, especially after I heard a quote from one of the Engineers from Roche Bros. in Melbourne who was involved in a feasibility study five or six year ago. to look at the viability or re-mining Banaba for the last of the phosphate still on the island. Of course, this Engineer was talking in purely monetary terms, especially after their report showed that it wasn't a viable prospect to reopen Phosphate Mining.

Since that time one of the island's old Engineer's Peter Anderson spoke to me of his idea of rebuilding back the island with garbage. Of course this isn't as easy as it sounds because of the possibilities of the danger of toxic and hazardous waste being dumped there. Regardless of these hurdles, Peter's enthusiasm led me on a search. With his help he put me in touch with a friend of his - Jim Straker, who happens to be the Technical Engineer at CLEANAWAY here in Brisbane. Jim was rather learned on the subject of 'Banaba/Ocean Island', because of his long association with Peter Anderson, and put me in touch with another associate, Denholm Brown, who had recently carried out feasibility study to rehabilitate Nauru.

In my quest to try and find A Solution, I have spoken to some very learned gentlemen in the mining rehabilitation field and various other ideas have been voiced. As we all know money is the biggest obstacle with regard to rehabilitating Banaba. To be completely realistic, I see some type of industry with the involvement of a Multi-national Company as the only viable solution. Just like the old B.P.C., a company e.g. Cement Works; Industrial Incinerator; Special Shipping facility etc. etc. putting the necessary infrastructure back on the island, and an income for the Banaban's. Some of our readers have already mentioned more biological ideas e.g. Introduction of rabbits; growing some type of crop to build up topsoil etc. etc. Denholm Brown, Environmental Scientist with AGC Woodward Clyde, believes CADMIUM levels on the island will only become higher while the island remains in its present denuded state. But to quote our Engineer friends -

"Where there is a will there IS a way!"

May/June 1994 - Issue No. 9

Dr . Paul Prociv, University of Queensland.


'I was fascinated to read of the developments on O.I. and Rabi. Even during my six months on O.I., I was concerned about the ecological devastation, and had lots of ideas about how to make the place habitable after mining operations ceased. There used to flocks of wild chickens, particularly around the golf course, and every now and then the police would organise a chicken shoot. I used to wonder, if chickens could do so well, how would RABBITS go? Certainly rabbits would help erode a lot of the harder soil and rocks, and would be valuable protein source (plus good fun, hunting) for the locals.

With little rain, their burrowing would not cause all the soil to be washed away. Furthermore, lots of leguminous plants would have thrived there and helped build up the soil, as they synthesize nitrate, and would have had sufficient calcium and phosphate available. I wondered why the empty ships returning from Australia did not bring back load of soil, sand or clay, to fill in the holes between the pinnacles. Of course, operations on the island were geared to loading, not unloading ships! At least they had the plant and trucks then; to do this now would be impossible. Engineers may have lots of good ideas, but in the real world, biologists may win out in the end!'

May/June 1994 - Issue No. 9

Bill Marston, Melbourne, Retired B.P.C. Commissioner


'Rabbits were introduced into the Line Islands at some stage. I remember Resident Commissioner Barley talking about their profusion on one of the islands after a visit'.

May/June 1994 - Issue No.9

Bill Goodall, Melbourne, War Artillery expert.


'Having had an involvement with the administration of Waste Management Schemes via Municipal Councils of Metropolitan Melbourne (total of 56), whilst employed with the Local Government Department of Victoria, I was interested in the thought of using waste materials and or garbage to rehabilitate the excavated area of the island. When dealing with CLEANAWAY (Melbourne) through their principals from Sydney, I found the organisation to be a very responsible one. This plan requires - Adequate management to ensure only acceptable materials are used and then properly placed - the site probably requiring an imperious seal to thereby prevent leecate percolating through to the ground waters and thereby endangering domestic water supply. I doubt whether the island would have sufficient waster material to make any sizeable impact. Overseas schemes for rehabilitation of large excavations (quarries and pits) include landscaping the depressed sited - sporting and music bowls, shopping centres etc.'

July/August 1994 - Issue No.10

Stacey King, Editor 'Banaba/Ocean Island News'


'Over the past few months there has been much public attention given to a Queensland cement works, called Queensland Cement. This company has been based in the Brisbane suburb of Darra for many years, and has had the exclusive contract to dredge the Brisbane river for sand and limestone. Now with increased demands the company has plans to dredge parts of the dead reef surrounding one of Brisbane's Moreton Bay islands. Due to public pressure this idea was squashed, and the Company is now looking at another island, this time further north on part our Barrier Reef. The company argues that unless another source is located the Darra plant will only have enough supplies for a further ten years, and thus have to close. With the pressure of high demand for cement in a region with one of the highest growth rates in Australia, the company is trying to secure their future for as long as possible.

With all this in mind, and realising that Denholm Brown of AGC Woodward & Clyde had already costed the clearing of Nauru's pinnacles at $100,000 per hectare, my attention was drawn to the problems face by Qld. Cement as i pondered whether such a company could be used to clear the forest of pinnacles on Banaba and pay for the Banabans for the privilege. Then maybe the Banabans could look to another company to use the island for 'Safe' land fill, with a covering of soil, also paying for the honour. After all when you look at Banaba today out of the original 1,5000 acres, only 150 acres is left unmined, and covered in many of the old derelict company buildings. The original island converts to about 608 hectares, and just to clear anything near that area is going to coast conservatively $6 million. So in theory it doesn't sound a bad idea. Maybe you have another suggestion, if so, let us know!'

Sept/Oct 1994 - Issue No.11

Stacey King, Editor 'Banaba/Ocean Island News'


'Since our last issue of the 'News' the Editor has been in touch with the Operations Manger at Qld. Cement - Mr. Alister Barber to discuss the 'Cement' idea for Banaba. After a very interesting discussion, Mr. Barber didn't want to build our hops up to much, as the island is so far away, he also didn't want to say 'no' to the idea until he knew more about the quality and amount of limestone that would be on the island. At this stage, Peter Anderson, old B.P.C. Engineer is working on a report on the technical question raised by Mr. Barber.'

Sept/Oct 1994 - Issue No.11

Dr. Harry Maude, Canberra - Anthropologist and Past Resident Commissioner Gilbert & Ellice Islands


'Re: Bill Marston's comments on 'Rabbits' in Note 2 of your Rehabilitation Forum on page 2 on No. 9 Issue. I enclose a note on them from my book - 'Of Islands & Men' - Page 330. The Rabbits were on Phoenix Island, which is one of the eight islands in the Phoenix Group and were found by us in October 1937 when engaged in declaring the Group to be British territory, the last pieces of land to be joined to the then British Empire before it disintegrated. I also enclose a copy of the two photos facing page 330 as the first gives a good idea of the sort of land the Rabbits lived on, while the second shows a British flag raised on the island at the time with the Declaration of Annexation on the board below. So if the Banabans want to keep Rabbits on Banaba they should get rid of all dogs and feral cats first. Rabbits would eat everything at ground level including all the vegetables, unless well fenced.

Rabbits came ashore at Phoenix Island from a ship wrecked there about 1870. I do not remember the name but it would probably be recorded in Capt. F. Rhodes' great work, "Pageant of the Pacific", being the Maritime history of Australasia, 2 vol. Sydney. F.J. Thwaites Pty. Ltd. - 1936.

...On Phoenix we found the only rabbits I have ever met with on any coral island. They appeared to be sharing their burrows with the petrels and shearwaters and one had to step carefully to avoid crushing rabbits and birds wherever one went. They were in very poor condition and, although when chased they would be off like a rocket for a hundred yards or so, they soon gave a despairing squeak and lay still with their ears back, ready to be captured. The delegates who had never, of course, seen such animals, called them 'pussies' and refused to eat them. We took twenty-five away with us with a view to breeding them in the Gilberts, but were unsuccessful as they were killed by dogs before they had time to establish themselves. I am told that rabbits never drink, certainly those on Phoenix could not have, for, though we dug six wells down to 12 feet we found nothing but salt water...'

Sept/Oct 1994 - Issue No.11

Dr. Paul Prociv, The University of Queensland


'The idea of mining the pinnacles for cement was novel one, and could help reclaim the island, but I'm not sure it would be economically feasible; Qld. Cement could let you know soon. After the expense of replacing limestone with soil from Australia, I don't think there would be much left to pay royalties. Limestone is readily available here, much more cheaply, I suspect. I worry about an airstrip; it would extend the entire length of the island, and then would take only small planes. Sure, it beats sailing, but who would pay for airfares. Running a small airline safely would be very expensive, so a return flight from Nauru could set you back $200-$300. I wonder if the Banabans have considered that?'

Nov/Dec 1994 - Issue No.12

Peter Anderson - Retired BPC Engineer


This is a copy of Peter's sketch showing the makeup of Banaba and his conservative estimates of how much 1st. Grade Coral would be available -  approx. 300,000,000 tons.

As you will note on his sketch, the original figure of 450,000,000 came out of his calculations, and Peter has adjusted this figure to allow for a truly conservative estimate. If this was added to Nauru's figure, you can well imagine we are talking about a lot of 1st. grade coral and limestone. The sketch of the island has been coloured to show the various compositions and levels making up the island. The top layer of the sketch is coloured - blue; the middle - red; the bottom layer - green to help you recognise the areas mentioned in Peter's


text.' geographical-sketch-banaba


Nov/Dec 1994 - Issue No.12

Brian Bailey - Retired BPC Engineer


'The Japanese rape of O.I. did irreparable Cultural damage, more so than the stripping of minerals by B.P.C. The terrain is repairable at minimal cost IF managed correctly - The Banabans lacking worldly skills, would need to employ a Rehabilitation Management Team!

For Example: Why not rebuild the Banga-banga's with impacted garbage, finally over coated with 'top grade' earth and garbage. The nutrient levels controlled to enrich the residue for maximum re-growth. All garbage transportation paid for by 'City of Origin.'

Nov/Dec 1994 - Issue No.12

Jim Strayker Technical Engineer, CLEANAWAY, Brisbane


'Impacted garbage can be formed into blocks and then dipped in bitumen to prevent any release of undesirable material into the soil. These blocks could then be used to form a bed down deep at the bottom of existing pinnacles to form a liner of the area. All modern dump sites around the world have some type of sealer or liner made before garbage is dumped on top. This also prevents the possibility of toxic or hazardous waste getting dumped on the island.'

Nov/Dec 1994 - Issue No.12

Denholm Brown - Environmental Scientist


' Denholm raised his concerns after returning from a feasibility study on Nauru. With a similar geographical composition on Banaba and the porous limestone composition and the resulting problems of leeching of cadmium and other heavy metals that could be occurring on the reefs surround the islands.'

Mar/Apr 1994 - Issue No.14

Brian Bailey - Retired BPC Engineer


'Way back in No. 12 Issue (Nov/Dec 1994) edition of the 'News" you ran extracts of an idea to Impact Garbage into the Bonga-A-Bonga's of O.I. It occurred to me that readers of the non-technical type will now be confused. To simplify both terms perhaps the following will suffice:

A BONG-A-BONG is the big hole left between the Pinnacles. If one can compare an 'impacted tooth' where the word impacted means - wedged between another tooth and jaw, defines what I'm on about, perfectly!

Now the COMPACTED GARBAGE is a different concept but large briquettes (block of compressed material) Compacted Garbage stamped - Made in Australia of course, would be the ideal method of transporting Garbage to O.I. for easy handling is surely of major concern. I envisage a shipload of lage compacted garbage briquettes reaching O.I. then handled via truck to the old mined out sites where the Briquettes are placed into the BONG-A-BONG'S so forming the final IMPACTED GARBAGE FILL. (See Sketch) This programme could take up to 30 years to complete using say, Banaban labour form the ship to mine site, but Banaba would be fully restored in time. Nauru has the same problem as O.I.

CLEANAWAY, still a division of Brambles I believe, could be the management organisation supplying the raw material which we all know will never run out! As an aside, Garbage Dumps around the world are now being considered by mining companies in particular as ORE BODIES. So immediate action is suggested.'


Mar/Apr 1994 - Issue No.14

Alister Barber - Operations Manager, Qld. Cement


'Alister Barber advises that even thought the estimates on high grade coral and limestone are promising the distance of Banaba's location would make the cost high. He did admit that the demand for cement, especially in developing countries in Asia is very high, so the idea of a modern cement plant set up on Nauru, (which already has the infrastructure still in place) and working in conjunction with Banabans, was put to him. He advised that a modern plant needs to be able to produce a least one and a half million tonnes of cement a year to be viable. The down side is a modern plant meeting today's standards costs around $200 million to build.'

Mar/Apr 1994 - Issue No.14

Pradraig Healy on Tarawa Island, Kiribati


' I am shortly due to leave Tarawa for good and I return to UK in June after four and a half years here in Kiribati. I visited Banaba early in 1994 to run a short training course for the newly formed Banaba Island Council, incorporating Banaba into the Kiribati Local Government System more fully. I spent only a week on the island. It was a sombre experience, to see the derelict machinery, the deserted warehouses and rotting buildings left behind when the BPC had no more use for the island. They stand there like memorials to the devastation which made millionaires of some while disinheriting the islanders of the very soil on which the sat.

I wondered briefly on reading about some of the suggestion for rehabilitating the island in your Newsletter, whether the contributors are aware that it is the Kiribati Government which is responsible for the development of Banaba, and the rest of the islands of Kiribati. Have any of these suggestions been forwarded to Tarawa or are they simply being floated in a vacuum? I wish you the best with your work on behalf of the exploited people of Banaba. There is much that needs to be done, though I wonder if any of your contributors seriously believes that the island can ever be restored to its former state, before BPC first appeared on the horizon.'

May/June 1996 - Issue No. 21

Jonathan Willis-Richards, an Associate Professor (Earth Scientist) Dept. of Resources Engineering, Tohoku University, Japan. Between April 1984 and September 1975 he lived in Kiribati. He held the position of Administrative Officer, District Officer, Clerk to Cabinet, Commercial affairs officer in Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labour. Health and Social Services administrator. His hobbies include the economic history of Kiribati, c1800-1941, and making a WWW home page for the Republic of Kiribati. To view his Kiribati WWW page look up -



'The Rehabilitation of Banaba is a difficult question - it would have been much easier for BPC to do it with free shipping to and from Australia.

Garbage is out - Banaba is too far away from the source of rubbish for it to be economic. Wouldn't like to think about the groundwater afterwards.

Cement is out - I believe that limestone for cement has to be impure rather than high grade and some form of clay mineral input is essential. Also cement has to be manufactured near any big market - you're looking at bulk cement prices of the order of $20/tonne - you couldn't get stuff onto the boat at Banaba for twice that price. If cement did work, then it wouldn't stop at the pinnacles - the rest of the island would disappear as well in time!



You need to do the following:

Blast the pinnacles individually - as in underground mining

  1. Process a proportion of the lumps through a mobile on-site crusher - or adapt the old BPC crusher.
  2. There may even be some lying around.
  3. Spread the coarse crushed particles first, then the finer ones on top. You might consider mixing the fine particles with some new high technology water retaining substance to help vegetation take hold.
  4. I don't have the details to hand, but some of the expanding gels available these days are unbelievable - ( >100's:1 water retention factors)

At a not-so-wild guess the blast-carry-crush-respread operation could be carried out for about $6 - $10 per m3. It would be an odd mix of labour intensive drill/blast and normal mining practice. Cost might also depend on tax breaks from the Kiribati government (like getting duty free fuel, plant and vehicle imports for the operation - perhaps the same breaks BPC used to get - it would be poetic).

  • What is the average pinnacle depth?

Say 10m, to be processed into 5m of crushed product. Hence cost is about $30 - $50 per m2 or $120,000 - $200,000 / acre. Way too much......

An alternative would be to refill around the pinnacles establishing useable land between them - a giant Japanese rock garden effect. This would require less fill material - say to a depth of 5m rather than 10m. Might halve the cost, but how to deliver the fill material?

A better approach might be to use crushed pinnacle material to reclaim some of the reef flat area. To do this you would need to spread about 2m of material and establish a 'sea wall' of larger blocks. Instead of using just pinnacles as a source, you could perhaps establish a proper quarry and reduce costs to perhaps $4-5/m3. This would come in at a more affordable $8-$10/m2 or $40,000 / acre.

  • How many acres are needed for a village site? Might be do-able.

The subsidiary problem would be use of the bulk remaining pinnacle area. Am I right in assuming that there are numerous mined out hollows and depressions (say 5m x 5m + flat bottomed between the pinnacles) that could support crops if they could be accessed and provided with soil? In this case a better approach might be to create a bridge network traversing the pinnacle heads to access the useable spots by foot/hand cart.


Banaba would be an ideal long/medium term storage site for medium/high level civil radioactive waste. Don't fall over backwards in alarm - I'm talking about the place to establish secure monitored containment facilities.


Remote (chance of accidental release is small, but remoteness factors down that equation even more), raised above sea level (so relatively remote from problems of sea level rise in medium term), low risk transport route from main source (Japan), freedom from earthquakes or danger of other severe natural disaster, reasonably defensible against possible terrorist attacks, ability to do something for the host population that might just make the whole idea acceptable. Reclamation and employment would be a small part of a much bigger equation in this case!


If anyone is interested, I may be in a position (in conjunction with colleagues, qualified in mining and land reclamation) to carry out a feasibility study.

  • Very important would be establishing carefully what are the social and economic goals of such reclamation?

This could only be done through direct contact with the Banaban community.


  1. Visit to Rabi - objectives of reclamation, availability of Banaban volunteers, qualifications of volunteers, sources of funds for the reclamation
  2. Visit to Banaba - or could use mined out areas on Nauru as an analogue. Sampling of remnant soil, natural soil, pillar material. Getting maps of Banaba.
  3. Discussion with NPC staff on blasting/ quarrying practice.
  4. Study of artificial soil/water retaining gels.
  5. Negotiation with the Kiribati government re: possibility of duty exemption for the project.
  6. Preparation of report, including novel ideas on raising sources of funding.
  7. Return visit to Rabi, translation of the draft report and presentation.
  8. Revision and submission of the final report.

The main costs would be day rates and transport. You are unlikely to find a competent consultant for less than about $800 - $900 / day. I'd be very willing to be part of a team, and I think I could put one together after August.

  • Could you get Australian Aid to part fund the constancy?

  • Did BPC ever carry out any studies? Are their archives publicly available?

My own situation is such that when I go back to the U.K, about the end of August this year, I have an offer to start up a resources / mining finance consultancy firm in London. My prospective partner has some finance and a lot of contacts plus a mining background - I would do a lot of the hard grind and quantitative work. He is also a rising star in mining litigation. Its a big risk for me, but I think there is little future in the academic side of things in the U.K over the next 10 years or so. I also have a contact with a land remediation specialist (Dr. Caroline Wilkins) who has specialised in remediation of land despoiled by mining, so I think we could be in a good position to put together a team that would be of some use to the Banabans.


$100k/acre for 1000 acres = $100m. This is seriously big bucks (enough for a US presidential campaign?). I think philanthropy is very unlikely. I am also sufficiently cynical to think that the international legal process is unlikely to yield anything for the Banabans.

  • Why, o’why did the Banabans not insist on suing for specific performance and tell the BPC to shove their $10m? Most of us young idealists in Tarawa were rooting for the Banabans during the court case, and were mightily disappointed when they asked for money. By taking the money, they have weakened their world wide public opinion position badly. What happened?


I remember a scare that went around BPC in the late 1970's about protecting their workers in the crushing plant from cadmium, but don't know the outcome. Geochemically speaking uranium follows phosphorous, and indeed aerial gamma-ray surveys are often used in prospecting for phosphates. I don't think uptake by vegetation of Uranium or daughter products direct is likely to be a problem,

  • but what about the radon levels in the bangabanga?

  • Do you have any data on the uranium content of Banaba phosphate?


  • Say they got some cash, but not enough to restore the whole island ($100k/acre would reduce the island to a FLAT piece of barren phosphate rock). It may be more sensible to render a smaller fraction of the island agriculturally productive.
  • Could such an approach be squared with the pattern of land ownership?
  • Is it a case of all or nothing?
  • How much of the desire for complete rehabilitation is contingent on the traditional pattern of land holding?
  • Is there room for change to reflect the present situation?
  • What is the age structure of the present Banaba re-settlers?
  • Are their numbers likely to increase or decrease with time? (300 persons on 100 acres is rather similar to the population density of Tamana in Kiribati - definitely overcrowded but without the backup water available via the bangabanga.)
  • What sort of lifestyle do the resettlers want to achieve?
  • Do they want to grow agricultural produce? (Gilbertese are usually mightily indifferent to almost any sort of green stuff, but 50 years on Rabi may have changed things)
  • Rather than a capital sum could they seek a regular set of payments to allow the restoration of perhaps 2, 5 or 10 acres per annum in a low intensity way with the work being carried out by the Banabans themselves and contingent on a resident population greater than, say 200, being maintained on the island?

The work could be carried out in a proper commercial way by a Banaban company allowing for equipment replacement etc and payments made on the basis of cadastral surveys.

This is much more achievable - since the cynical in OZ/U.K. would argue that Banaba would probably be abandoned by future Banaban generations and hence payments into infinity would not arise.

I think that it is important that the Banabans set out for themselves a series of options with a degree of frankness and reality. Some of these options may be achievable, others may be impractical. Any outside consultancy can only be effective if the Banabans give clear terms of reference, such terms can only be clear if the Banabans know what they want.

* Land rehabilitation can only be a part of a Banaban plan for Banaba*


  • Is it possible to use the pinnacles positively? e.g they provide shade for plants it is possible, I would assume, to string some form of sunlight resistant material between the pinnacles to catch water and gravity feed to storage.

  • How many pinnacles do you have to clear to provide water storage area plus hydroponic based growing area for a population of c.300 whose primary source of protein is fish? Probably not much.

Given adequate water catchment and storage, hydroponic miracles can be achieved with quite small land areas. (I am impressed with the results of the agriculture department in Tarawa in this respect, though not with their commercial acumen.)


Caused by El Nino, apparently a chaotic phenomenon but as soon as one starts you know you are in for a drought and vice versa. Look for web pages on the progress on the current El Nino.


Start with pandanus rather than coconut. Get seedlings from the driest islands in Kiribati.


  • Can the Banabans get hold of a copy from Roche Brothers direct?

If the results were entirely negative they've nothing to lose by sending a copy, especially if you hint there may be a change in the terms of reference and a follow up!


I know many of the people in the Kiribati Gov. personally and have worked with them in the past and am familiar with their internal priorities. I do have some fairly trenchant views on the benefits of international aid and overseas experts etc .

Consultancy wise, if the Banabans have no money, then they'll have to do it by themselves! (Way of the world, but the report would also be the better for it)

  • What are the skills possessed by the Banaban community (science, engineering, mining, agriculture, sociology) as a whole?

If they are lacking in the skills to decide what to do, do they have control over the development of skills by their community? e.g. On Nikunau, the son of the original church builder at Rungata was sent to Australia to learn engineering, building and the making of stained glass windows so that he could complete the job his father started 40 years previously. From my view point, I see the achievement of a self-understanding of their own sociology and dynamics as a necessary precursor to them deciding what to do about Banaba.


Is there a properly established Local Government on Banaba, recognised under the Local Government Act in Kiribati? I can think of benefits for there being one. (At an outside chance I could see the Banabans winning a new court case an d the money being paid to the Kiribati Government!).'



If you would like more information please contact us