ST. MATTHEW ISLAND (Alaska)
United States of America
St. Matthew Island is an extremely remote island in the middle of the Bering Sea, more than 200 miles from the nearest Alaska village. Even by Alaskan standards it is a lonely place. At the most southerly point of the 32 mile long island, at Cape Upright, the black sand and gravel beaches give way to massive sea cliffs that exceed heights of over 1000 ft. These are home to countless nesting murres, kittiwakes, cormorants and other sea birds. In fact, reports of the island’s wildlife by the Harriman Expedition in 1899 convinced Teddy Roosevelt to include St. Matthew in a group of islands designated as America’s first wildlife refuges in 1909. Today, biologists from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, try to visit St. Matthew every five years to monitor changes. The most famous story of this island is the case of the disappearing reindeer. In 1944, twenty-nine reindeer were brought to the island as alternative food supply for WWII troops. By 1963 there were over 6,000 animals. But only 3 years later, after a couple extremely harsh winters, numbers had shrunk to 42, and by the early 1980’s the total population was gone.