Island Expedition Has Ham Radio World Crackling

A team heads for tiny Clipperton Atoll for research, cleanup, and mass radio contact

We were amateur radio operators once at EN. Truth be told, we’re still fluent in Morse code, although it doesn’t come up much in day-to-day conversation. As so-called “ham” radio celebrates its 100th anniversary as a hobby, you can find hams RVing, studying astronomy, hiking and backpacking, sailing, weather spotting, and preparing to handle  emergency communications – situations where shortwave radio is often the only means of communications. 

Thus, it gladdens our solder-stained fingers to learn of an expedition – actually a DXpedition (DX being shorthand for distance) -- leaving San Diego this month for the remote uninhabited atoll of Clipperton. The 3.5 square mile French-administered island is located 621-mi./1,000-km southwest of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean and is considered to be an important living lab to understand the ecology and impact of human activities--from shipwrecks to garbage accumulation--in the Pacific. The Explorers Club-flagged project will be led by Dr. Robert W. Schmieder, director of Cordell Expeditions, a nonprofit scientific organization based in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Among other goals, the team hopes to conduct amateur radio conversations (or QSO’s) with up to 100,000 radio amateurs worldwide, using the callsign TX5K.

Once on Clipperton, the 30-member international team will also monitor, collect and remove plastic and other debris that lands on the island; search for non-native species (the nasty big-headed ant, algae, and insects) as they study the equilibrium of the wildlife found there. Exotic species like invasive rats were introduced by a recent shipwreck. How they compete with local animals is one question they hope to answer. 

They will also develop and attempt to fly the longest kite on record, according to Belgian expedition member Louis-Philippe Loncke, who will explore the island, film it and remove the some of the plastic.

Moving all the equipment on and off the support ship is a risky challenge as the coral reef cannot be damaged, and the team will have to deal with powerful surf. The island has no potable water  – the inland lake is acidic – and the sun, heat, rats and large crabs will be constant annoyances. 

But for the 100,000 hams around the world who compete with one another for the most countries contacted, it will be a thrill to add this remote territory to their logbooks.

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