|Sunset at Astola Island|
|A view of sea from the Astola Island of Pakistan|
The earliest mention of Astola is in Arrian's account of Admiral Nearchos, who was dispatched by Alexander the Great to explore the coast of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf in 325 BCE. The sailors in Nearchos's fleet were "frightened at the weird tales told about an uninhabited island, which Arrian calls Nosala".
GeographyThe island consists of a large tilted plateau and a series of seven small hillocks (hence the local name "Haft Talar" or "Seven Hills"), with deep chasms and crevices, which are several feet wide. There are several natural caves and coves on the island. The south face of the island slopes off gradually whereas the north face is cliff-like with a sharp vertical drop.
EcologyIsolation has helped maintain several endemic life forms on Astola. The endangered Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbracata) nest on the beach at the foot of the cliffs. The island is also an important area for endemic reptiles such as the Astola viper (Echis carinatus astolae). The island is reported to support a large number of breeding water birds including coursers, curlews, godwits, gulls, plovers and sanderlings. Feral cats, originally introduced by fishermen to control the endemic rodent population, pose an increasing threat to wildlife breeding sites.
Vegetation on the island is sparse and largely consists of scrubs and large bushes. There are no trees on the island. The largest shrub on the island is Prosopis juliflora, which was introduced into South Asia in 1877 from South America. There is no source of fresh water on the island and the vegetation depends on occasional rainfall and soil moisture for survival. Astola is also home to coral reef.
Man-made featuresIn 1982, the Government of Pakistan installed a small gas-powered beacon on the island for the safety of passing vessels, which was replaced by a solar-powered one in 1987.
Between September and May of each year, Astola becomes a temporary base for mainland fishermen for catching lobsters and oysters. From June to August, the island remains uninhabited due to the fishing off-season, the rough seas and high tides.
There is a small mosque dedicated to the Muslim saint, Khawaja Khizr, which is used by the mainland fishermen during the fishing season. Ruins of an ancient Hindu temple of the Hindu goddess, Kali are located on the island. The island was also known to the Hindus as Satadip.
In Arrian's Indica, which describes the westward journey of Alexander's fleet after the Indus Valley campaign (325 BC), Admiral Nearchus is quoted as having anchored by an island named 'Carnine'. It was said to be inhabited by the Ichthyophagoi ('fish eaters' in Greek) and where, "even mutton had a fishy taste". The Persian phrase mahi khoran (fish eaters) has become the modern name of the coastal region of Makran. Some scholars have assumed Carnine to be Astola, without considering the extreme aridity and lack of fresh water, which renders the place inhospitable for human habitation, as well as animal husbandry. In all likelihood, Carnine was the name of an island in the inland sea, presently known as Khor Kalmat. This latter conjecture supports Nearchus' coast-hugging voyage (which would have kept him well away from Astola), a compulsion meant to provision Alexander's army that was supposed to have marched along a coastal route.