The “new” Nishinoshima island—once called Niijima—sits about 620 miles off the coast of Tokyo and has only been above water since November 2013. In the short period of time it has existed, the active volcanic island has seen significant growth, even managing to engulf the land once known as Nishinoshima.

The island is currently just under one square mile of cooled lava rock, a barren land that has scientists excited about what the future holds. Researchers are hoping to use Nishinoshima to observe the early stages of life on untouched land. Who do they expect to usher in all that new, pristine life? Sea birds. Their waste, feathers, regurgitated food, and even corpses will feed the soil that might one day nourish the seeds that will inevitably make their way to the island.  

Naoki Kachi, professor and leader of Tokyo Metropolitan University’s Ogasawara Research Committee, told Agence France-Presse, “I am most interested in the effects of birds on the plants’ ecosystem—how their bodily wastes-turned-organic fertilizers enrich the vegetation and how their activities disturb it.”

While Nishinoshima’s blank slate laboratory is exciting, the island is still growing, and it remains to be seen whether our planet’s new piece of earth will calm down enough anytime soon to allow new life to take root.