1. Geography and Physical Description

The Pacific island of Sonsorol, an extinct volcano surrounded by coral reefs, lies at 5 degrees above the Equator at 132 deg. longitude; about 400 miles east of the southeastern tip of the Philippines and 300 miles north of the Dampier Straits in New Guinea. It is approximately ten miles in diameter and about ninety square miles in area.

The climate is typical for the region: steady balmy temperatures (60-70 year-round), occasional violent typhoons, monsoons from September to February, sea breezes along the coast, steamy stifling rainforest on the lower slopes of Mount Sonsorol (especially dense on the island's northern side, exposed to the trade winds); nearer to the summit the weather is almost permanently cloudy, cool and misty, and the jungle thins into a "cloud forest"--moss, small trees shrouded in epiphytic mosses, hepatics, ferns, orchids, etc. Sonsorol enjoys plenty of fresh water, including waterfalls in the hills, and even a small river, the Garuda.

Vegetation: typical tropical abundance and variety, including many species of orchids and a plethora of other tropical flowers and fruit. Formerly copra, taro, sugar-cane and pineapples were cultivated in the southwestern savannah region; now the plantations have been abandoned and gone wild except for a few coconut groves reserved for local consumption (every part of the plant is used, in cooking, building, etc.) Indigenous fauna are sparse, mostly limited to birds and insects (which can prove annoying). Pigs, chickens, goats and other European species were imported in the 17th century. Fishing is spectacular, and provides both a staple diet and a good deal of sport; the three small coral atolls which belong to Sonsorol offer superb snorkeling and abound in rare types of tropical fish (see Excursions).

Nearly circular in shape, and lacking any decent bays or inlets, Sonsorol would at first seem strategically unsuited to its ancient role as pirate enclave; however, the coral reefs which surround the island provide a sort of lagoon in which ships can ride at anchor "in the roads" quite safely, even in heavy weather.

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