By that time, Nauru had been extensively mined for phosphate by companies from Australia, Britain and New Zealand damaging the landscape so much that it was thought the island would be uninhabitable by the 1990s. Rehabilitating the island was seen as financially impossible. In 1962, Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, said that the three countries involved in the mining had an obligation to provide a solution for the Nauruan people, and proposed finding a new island for them. In 1963, the Australian Government proposed to acquire all the land on Curtis Island (which was considerably larger than Nauru) and then offer the Nauruans freehold title over the island and that the Nauruans would become Australian citizens. The cost of resettling the Nauruans on Curtis Island was estimated to be £10 million, which included housing and infrastructure and the establishment of pastoral, agricultural, and fishing industries. However, the Nauruan people did not wish to become Australian citizens and wanted to be given sovereignty over Curtis Island to establish themselves as an independent nation, which Australia would not agree to. Nauru rejected the proposal to move to Curtis Island, instead choosing to become an independent nation operating their mines in Nauru.
Nauru became self-governing in January 1966, and following a two-year constitutional convention, it became independent on 31 January 1968 under founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970 control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC). Income from the mines made Nauruans among the richest people in the world. In 1989, Nauru took legal action against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s administration of the island, in particular, Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.
Nauru is a 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi), oval-shaped island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 55.95 km (34.77 mi) south of the equator. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, which is exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The presence of the reef has prevented the establishment of a seaport, although channels in the reef allow small boats access to the island. A fertile coastal strip 150 to 300 m (490 to 980 ft) wide lies inland from the beach.
Coral cliffs surround Nauru’s central plateau. The highest point of the plateau, called the Command Ridge, is 71 m (233 ft) above sea level.
The only fertile areas on Nauru are on the narrow coastal belt where coconut palms flourish. The land around Buada Lagoon supports bananas, pineapples, vegetables, pandanus trees, and indigenous hardwoods, such as the tamanu tree.
Nauru was one of three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean, along with Banaba (Ocean Island), in Kiribati, and Makatea, in French Polynesia. The phosphate reserves on Nauru are now almost entirely depleted. Phosphate mining in the central plateau has left a barren terrain of jagged limestone pinnacles up to 15 m (49 ft) high. Mining has stripped and devastated about 80 per cent of Nauru’s land area, leaving it uninhabitable, and has also affected the surrounding exclusive economic zone; 40 per cent of marine life is estimated to have been killed by silt and phosphate runoff.