St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks

Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks
Native name: Rocas de São Pedro e São Paulo
File:Rocas de São Pedro e São Paulo.jpg
Brazilian Navy scientific station and lighthouse of the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago.
Location Atlantic Ocean

00°55′1″N 29°20′4″W / 0.91694°N 29.33444°W / 0.91694; -29.33444Coordinates: 00°55′1″N 29°20′4″W / 0.91694°N 29.33444°W / 0.91694; -29.33444

Archipelago Rocas de São Pedro e São Paulo
Total islands 15[1]
Major islands Belmonte, Challenger, Nordeste, Cabral, South
Area 15,000 m2 (161,000 sq ft)[1]
Highest elevation 17 m (56 ft)[1]
Region Northeast
State Pernambuco
Population 4[2]
Additional information
Official Website

The Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks (Portuguese: Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo) is a group of 15 small islets and rocks in the central equatorial Atlantic Ocean.[3] It lies in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a region of characterized by low average winds punctuated with local thunderstorms. It is approximately 510 nmi (940 km; 590 mi) from the Brazilian northeastern coastal town of Touros, 625 km (388 mi) northeast of the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 990 km (620 mi) from the city of Natal, and 1,824 km (1,133 mi) from the western African coast.

The islets expose serpentinized abyssal mantle peridotite and kaersutite-bearing ultramafic mylonite on the top of the second-largest megamullion in the world (after the Parece Vela megamullion under Okinotorishima in the Pacific) and the highest one of the world. It is the only location on Atlantic Ocean where the abyssal mantle is exposed above sea level.[4]

In 1986, the rocks were designated as an environmentally protected area.[5] Since 1998, the Brazilian Navy has maintained a permanently manned research facility on the islands.[2] The main economic activity around the islets is tuna fishing.


On April 20, 1511, a Portuguese Navy fleet composed of six caravels under the command of Captain Garcia de Noronha discovered the islets by accident while on their journey to India. While navigating in open sea at late night, the Saint Peter caravel, under the command of Captain Manuel de Castro Alcoforado, crashed against the islets.[4]

On the morning of February 16, 1832, the rocks were visited by Charles Darwin on the first leg of his voyage on HMS Beagle around the world. Darwin listed all the fauna he could find; noting that not a single plant or even a lichen could be found on the island. Darwin found two birds, a booby and a noddy, a large crab that stole the fish intended for baby birds, a fly that lived on the booby and a parasitic tick. He found a moth that lived on feathers, a beetle, a woodlouse that lived on dung, and numerous spiders that he thought lived on scavengers of the waterfowl. Darwin felt that these rocks represented how life first took hold on a newly formed outcrop.[6] Darwin was correct in noting that, unusually, these small islands were not volcanic, but were instead formed by a geologic uplift.[4] Darwin's account formed the basis of a fictionalized episode in Patrick O'Brian's historical novel HMS. Surprise, when the naturalist Stephen Maturin is briefly marooned and survives by drinking fouled rainwater and the blood of boobies.[7]Another famous person to visit the Rocks was Ernest Shackleton, on his last expedition to Antarctica (1921-1922).[4]

In 1942, during World War II, the islets were declared to be part of the Federal Territory of Fernando de Noronha (which also included the Rocas Atoll).

In early 1960, the rocks served as the starting-point and terminus for the first submerged circumnavigation of the world by the American nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton.[8]

Scientific station

On June 25, 1998, the Brazilian Navy inaugurated the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks Scientific Station (Portuguese: Estação Científica do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo; ECASPSP). The station is manned with four researchers, who are rotated in and out every 15 days.[9] By maintaining permanent occupation of the rocks, the Brazilian Navy extends Brazil's Exclusive Economic Zone, territorial waters and airspace into the North Atlantic Ocean.[10]

On June 5–6, 2006, an earthquake with a magnitude of above six on the Richter scale rocked the archipelago. The strong tidal surge following the earthquake caused the battery compartment to crash against the station's outer wall, allowing sea water to flood the station. The four researchers who were on the archipelago took shelter in the lighthouse, while maintaining constant contact with the Brazilian Navy. A fishing vessel located nearby rescued the researchers, who were then transferred to a Brazilian Navy patrol boat. The incident caused considerable damage to the station and equipment.[11] The station was repaired on September 9–11, 2006, and became operational shortly after.[12]

In 2007, the Brazilian Navy started to build a new scientific station on the rocks.[9] Construction began on July 24, 2007, and was completed on June 25, 2008.[9] The new station was built with seismic isolation, and is considerably larger and better equipped than the previous one.[13] The station is composed of a main building - equipped with reverse osmosis salt water desalination system, photovoltaics system and satellite communications system; deposits and a mooring dock.[3][14]

The Brazilian Navy also maintains a lighthouse on the rocks, (ARLHS: SPP-001), built in 1995 to replace a previous one from 1930.[4][15]

Air France Flight 447

On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-200 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris was reported missing and is presumed to have crashed off the coast of Fernando de Noronha. Fragments from the aircraft were found near the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks [16]


The Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks are situated in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 km (62 mi) north of the Equator and are the only group of Brazilian oceanic islets in the Northern Hemisphere. The nearest point in the Brazilian coast, is Cabo do Calcanhar, Rio Grande do Norte, approximately 1,010 kilometres (630 mi) from the archipelago. The total emerged area is about 4.2 acres (1.7 ha) and the maximum land elevation is 18 m (59 ft), on Nordeste Island. The archipelago is composed of several rocks, five small rocky islets and four larger islets:[4][17]

  • Belmonte Islet: 5,380 square metres (57,900 sq ft)
  • Challenger Islet (also known as São Paulo): 3,000 square metres (32,000 sq ft)
  • Nordeste Islet (also known as São Pedro): 1,440 square metres (15,500 sq ft)
  • Cabral Islet: 1,170 square metres (12,600 sq ft)
  • South Islet: 943 square metres (10,150 sq ft).

Their base is over 3,650 metres (11,980 ft) below sea level.[4]

None of the islets has a permanent fresh water supply available.[4]


Only the largest of the islets, Belmonte, is vegetated with mosses and grasses. The other rocks are mostly barren, except for some sea algae and fungi that can tolerate the salt spray. The rocks are inhabited by sea birds, including the Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), and Black Noddy (Anous minutus), as well as crabs (Grapsus grapsus), insects and spiders.[18]


Further reading

  • Andrade, F.G.G., Simões, L.S.A., Campos, T.F.C., Silva, A.J.C.A. 2007. Padrão estrutural da foliação milonígica do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo. Anais do 11º Simpósio Nacional de Estudos Tectônicos, 5th International Symposium of Tectonics of the SBG. Natal, 233. (in Portuguese)
  • Beach, Edward L. November 1960 (Vol. 118, No. 5). "Triton Follows Magellan's Wake" National Geographic Magazine. 585-615
  • Bonatti, E. 1990. Subcontinental mantle exposed in the Atlantic Ocean on St Peter-Paul islets. Nature, 345, 800-802.
  • Campos, T.F.C., Virgens Neto, J., Amorim, V.A., Hartmann, L.A., Petta, R.A. 2003. Modificações metassomáticas das rochas milonitizadas do complexo ultramáfico do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo, Atlântico Equatorial. Geochimica Brasiliensis, 17-2, 81-90. (in Portuguese)
  • Campos, T.F.C., Virgens Neto, J., Costa, L.S., Petta, R.A., Sousa, L.C., Silva, F.O. 2007. Sistema de diaclasamento do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo (Atlântico Equatorial) como indicador de movimentação destral associado à falha transformante de São Paulo. Anais do 11º Simpósio Nacional de Estudos Tectônicos, 5th International Symposium of Tectonics of the SBG. Natal, 238. (in Portuguese)
  • Hékinian, R., Juteau, T., Gracia, E., Udintsev, G., Sichler, B., Sichel, S.E., Apprioual, R. 2000. Submersible observations of Equatorial Atlantic Mantle: The St. Paul Frature Zone region. Marine Geophysical Research, 21, 529-560.
  • Melson, W.G., Jarosewich, E., Bowen, V.T., Thompsonm G. 1967. St. Peter and St. Paul rocks: a high-temperature mentle-derived intrusion. Science, 155. 1532-1535.
  • Moraes, J.F.S., Linden, E.M., Moraes, F.A.B. 1997. Planta topográfica do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo, escala 1:500. CPRM - Serviço Geológico do Brasil.
  • Motoki, A., Sichel, S.E., Campos, T.F.C., Srivastava, N.K., Soares, R.S. 2009. Taxa de soerguimento atual do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo, Oceano Atlântico Equatorial. Revista Escola de Minas, 62-3. 331-342. (in Portuguese)
  • Sichel, S.E., Esperança, S., Motoki, A., Maia, M., Horan, M.F., Szatmari, P., Alves, E.C., Mello, S.L.M. 2008. Geophysical and geochemical evidence for cold upper mantle beneath the Equatorial Atlantic Ocean. Revista Brasileira de Geofísica, 26-1, 69-86.
  • Souza, José Eduardo Borges de: O arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Revista do Clube Naval, Ano 115, N° 340, Out/Nov/Dez 2006. p. 70-72, ISSN 0102-0382.
  • Thompson, Geoffrey: St. Peter and St. Paul's Rocks (Equatorial Atlantic) and the Surrounding Sea Floor, Woods Hole, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 1981 (Technical Report) (Woods Hole Oceanog. Inst. Tech. Rept. WHOI-81 -98) [1]
  • Tressler, Willis L.: Rochedos São Pedro e São Paulo (St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks), Washington, U. S. Navy Hydrographic Office, 1956 (Technical Report, TR-31).
  • Virgens Neto, J., Campos, T.F.C. 2007. A influência da zona de fratura São Paulo no contexto estrutural do Arquipélago de São Pedro e São Paulo - Atlântico Equatorial. Anais do 11º. Simpósio Nacional de Estudos Tectônicos, 5th International Symposium of Tectonics of the SBG. Natal, 294-295. (in Portuguese)
  • Wiseman, J. D. H. 1966. St Paul's Rocks and the Problem of the Upper Mantle. Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 11, 519-525. (in Portuguese)

External links

Brazil portal
  • Official website (Portuguese)
  • A New Era on the Archipelago of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Brazilian Navy publication
  • Template:WWF ecoregion
  • Information and pictures from landing, February 2001
  • Darwin's description from Voyage of the Beagle
  • First Visit of Brazilian Research Vessel
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