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Vol. 31 No. 6
November-December 2009

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


Merry Christmas Phosphates

Phosphate rock, a combination of phosphate-rich minerals that includes several types of apatites, is the only economically viable source of phosphorus for the production of phosphate fertilizers and a myriad of other phosphorus-containing products. Although not widely distributed in nature, it is mined on a huge scale in certain regions of the world. About three-quarters of the world’s production, a whopping 167 million tonnes in 2008, comes from only four countries, namely the United States, China, Morocco, and Russia. On the other hand, Christmas Island, a small territory located in the Indian Ocean about 360 km south of Java (Indonesia) but administered by Australia since 1958, is one of the most peculiar if not particularly large exporters of phosphate rock, mainly because its economy has relied almost exclusively on its exploitation for over a century.

The first stamp illustrated in this note is part of a set of 16 issued by Christmas Island in 1980-81 to promote its phosphate industry. It shows a long line of volumetric flasks and a woman analyzing samples of phosphate rock, presumably to establish their phosphorus content (usually reported as P2O5). The other stamp, issued in 1988 to commemorate the centenary of the first permanent settlement on the island by the British, features the traditional way of mining phosphate rock. Interestingly, even though the annual output of phosphate rock on Christmas Island has remained steady in recent years at about 650 000 tonnes, the local economy has significantly shifted towards tourism, with a focus on nature walking, scuba diving, and bird watching. So, on 25 December, if the holiday season finds you longing for a trip to a paradisiacal island with a long history of phosphate mining, you know where to go . . .

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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