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Polynesian Migration

June 18, 2009

A surge in food poisoning from tropical fish may have prompted human migrations in the South Pacific.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Fleeing poisonous fish. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A thousand years ago, natives of Polynesia’s Cook Islands started leaving their homeland in droves, canoeing to uncharted lands all over the South Pacific. This may have been prompted by food poisoning, according to native Cook Islander Teina Rongo, a Ph. D. student at the Florida Institute of Technology. The sickness comes from ciguatera, a toxin that can build up in the Cook Islands’ local fish. Rongo and his colleagues, including paleoecologist Mark Bush, found geologic evidence of big climate swings in the Islands at that time.

MARK BUSH (Florida Institute of Technology):
And under certain of these conditions, you’ve got a much higher probability of getting a ciguateric outbreak than under normal conditions.

HIRSHON:
In fact, a potentially climate-related outbreak triggered a similar exodus in the 1990’s. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.