Guano a Place
There's a fascinating article in the current issue of Smithsonian all about...the potato. Scoff if you will, but did you know that up until the lowly spud was introduced to Europe the continent was never quite able to feed itself, and the standard of living was much like you might find in a third world country? And also, the potato was originally poisonous and had to be eaten with clay to neutralize the toxins, a trick that people learned from watching the animals? And during the agricultural boom brought on by the growth of the potato's popularity, Europe imported tons and tons of bird poop? Wait, come back.
You probably think of bats when you hear the word "guano," but in fact the word is derived from the South American "wano," meaning "dung." Guano can refer to the excrement of bats, seabirds or seals. In Peru there are many coastal areas with high, inaccessible cliffs, as well as secluded islands, which allow tremendous numbers of seabirds to nest undisturbed by people. And where there are seabirds...
Just off the coast of Peru lie the Chincha Islands. Peru began exporting the guano deposits found there in 1840. Guano is rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, is odorless and so makes an excellent fertilizer. In some places on the islands the guano was over 150 feet deep. And that, my friends, is a lot of bird poop.
Over the next few decades Peru exported about 13 million tons of guano from the Chincha Islands. At one point it accounted for 60% of the revenue for the Peruvian government. In 1864, as further proof that people will fight over just about anything, Spain took control of the Chincha Islands, and with it much of the Peruvian guano trade, igniting the Chincha Islands War. The war would last until 1866, when Spain was finally sent packing. As with most natural resources, the guano of the Chincha Islands was quickly used up, and the supply was mostly exhausted by 1874.
You already knew that wars have been fought over many things including land, gold, slaves, rubber and oil. And now to that list you can add piles and piles of goopy bird poop. Enjoy your breakfast.