Imagine being surrounded by a colorful world but not being able to perceive it in its full glory. As sad as that sounds this is a reality for people who are colorblind. Not everyone has the perfect color vision, but can you imagine an island where 10% of the population is genuinely and completely colorblind?
Pingelap, a small atoll in the Pacific has an unusually high number of colorblind residents. Moreover it is not the typical colorblindness one where you find it difficult to distinguish between red and green or blue and yellow. The residents of this tiny island can almost only see the world in black and white.
Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Pingelap Atoll is part of Pohnpei State. It consists of three islands but Pingelap is the only one inhabited. The atoll covers a 455-acre land area and the widest point is less than 4 km. Pingelap has a population of 250 and its own language called “Pingelapese.” Most of the islands residents speak this native language. The island has a tropical climate and it enjoys warm and even temperatures all through the year.
In 1775, a deadly typhoon called “Lengkieki” ravaged Pingelap and killed most of the islanders. After the storm and the famine that followed the island had a population of only 20. One of the survivors who was also a ruler at the time is thought to have been the carrier of the gene that is now known as “CNGB3.” This gene resides in Chromosome 8 and is responsible for one of the most common forms of rod Monochromatism.
The colorblindness occurred as a result of inbreeding and the “Founder Effect,” which is why all the colorblind people of the island can trace their ancestry back to the ruler who originally had the CNGB3 gene. Moreover, people who have this disorder have trouble seeing in sunlight. However their night vision is much stronger than people who do not have achromatopsia and they can easily spot faint light.
To this day, Pingelap Atoll is a topic of interest among geneticists around the world. The combination of a small gene pool and rapid growth in population has made achromatopsia unusually common on the island. Nearly 10% of the islands population is colorblind.
In the United States only 0.003% or 1 in 33,000 people are colorblind.