Unless you’re a student of Japanese geography, you’ve probably never heard of Minamitorishima Island. And there’s a good reason for that. The tiny island is just over half a mile square, and although it’s technically a part of Tokyo, it’s more than a thousand miles away from the capital in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, a recent discovery at the island could well bring it wider notoriety. Why? Because the find’s impact could be so huge it might just change the world economy.
No one lives on the island of Minamitorishima, whose name means “Southern Bird” in Japanese. But the island plays an important role for Japan. You see, because it’s part of the country, it allows the Japanese to control a huge swathe of the ocean that surrounds it. And after the recent discovery close to the island, that could well turn out to be a very lucrative area of the ocean to be in charge of.
However, it’s not the ocean itself where the discovery was made, but somewhere much deeper. On the sea bed around the island, researchers were searching for what are known as rare-earth metals. And in the mud around Minamitorishima they came upon what can only be described as a treasure trove. But what are rare-earth metals?