Island Castaway Describes His Self-Imposed Exile

Emily Murphy
for National Geographic Ultimate Explorer
August 29, 2003

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer: Island Castaway premieres Sunday, August 31, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC.

View a Clipperton Island photo gallery and read Lance Milbrand's island journal.

In 1994, Lance Milbrand traveled to Clipperton Island, a coral atoll in the Eastern Pacific 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico, on a scientific expedition. Film equipment failure and heatstroke prevented him from shooting a planned documentary about the island.

Milbrand returned to the remote island in April of 2003 to shoot his film, funded in part with a grant from the National Geographic Expeditions Council. For 41 days, he lived on the island among thousands of bright orange crabs and millions of seabirds, mapping the atoll for National Geographic Maps and shooting documentary footage. With the exception of a cameraman who stayed briefly at the beginning and end of his trip, Milbrand was the only human living on the island.

National Geographic News recently spoke with Milbrand about his new film on Clipperton, Island Castaway.

What was your daily experience like on Clipperton?

Each day I would wake up in the company of about 5,000 birds. Boobies surrounded my camp. I mean, they were everywhere. They would talk amongst themselves and argue and do what boobies do best—which is squawk a lot.

So I would make breakfast and decide what I was going to do next in terms of filming. It really depended upon the weather. If it looked like it was going to rain, then I would try and stay close to base camp and work in the palm grove. If it looked sunny, I would get in the skiff and travel across the lagoon and work a different part of the island.

My trip in '94 gave me a good idea of what I could expect to shoot as far as the video goes. So I had to plan out where the best locations were for the natural history as well as human history on the island. I also had another job and that was mapping the atoll. So I walked around with a GPS and plotted a new map.

The first few weeks I was there, it was just unbelievably hot. I had blisters on [my] lips and a rash across my chest. I had a thermometer. It was 110° [Fahrenheit/43° Celcius] day after day. I almost ran out of water. I brought a lot, but I underestimated the amount that I needed. I estimated a gallon and a half [5.7 liters] a day. I think you could bring three gallons [11.3 liters] a day and be a lot safer. But it weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon [one kilogram per liter] so that is a lot of weight to carry on shore. Water is really the key to survival. I mean, it is…more valuable than gold, especially on Clipperton.

Milbrand holds a tin box that contains dozens of small plastic toys he collected on the shores of Clipperton. There are green army men, plastic horses, a plastic Ronald McDonald cookie cutter, and cowboys and Indians. They lack the sheen of most plastic toys because they have been covered in guano for an unknown period of time.

Where did these toys come from?

Continued on Next Page >>


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