Exploring 10 Remote Islands Forsaken by Humankind
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 20 October 2016.
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 20 October 2016.
There’s something particularly captivating about once-occupied islands that now lie abandoned to the elements. Perhaps it’s to do with the logistical effort that goes into transporting everything from people to building materials to these often-remote locations, or the sheer determination of engineers to overcome nature in a bid to conquer the world’s most inhospitable places. It can seem almost inconceivable that such facilities were never meant to last. To date, we’ve examined a plethora of isolated locations, from remote abandoned scientific research stations to the eerie ghost settlements of Antarctica and rusting Japanese wartime relics left behind when Axis forces surrendered. In this article, we’ll turn our attention to a series of abandoned island locations and examine why they were forsaken by those who once occupied them.
1. Herschel Island, Canada
Sitting off the coast of Canada’s Yukon Territory, Herschel Island was abandoned in 1908. Before then, it was home to hundreds of people who survived off the whaling industry. But when the industry collapsed in 1907, there was nothing left to sustain the island and its inhabitants left their homes.
In its heyday, Herschel Island had its own sports leagues, hosted dances and theatrical performances, and endured in the face of incredible odds in the middle of nowhere. The Smithsonian recounts how dangerous and deadly life on the now abandoned island could be, noting that in 1897 a blizzard moved in so fast during a baseball game that five men died before they could reach shelter.
Today, the empty properties of the whalers’ town, and its adjoining cemetery, still stand. But it’s unclear how long that will last. Herschel Island was originally carved out by the Launrentide Ice Sheet, and now, rising water levels are threatening to submerge it once again.
2. Antipodes Island, New Zealand
Remote and incredibly inhospitable, the Antipodes Islands are a group of sub-antarctic volcanic islands that lie about 530 miles south of New Zealand’s two main landmasses. They’re now on the UNESCO World Heritage List and designated the Antipodes Sub-Antarctic Islands tundra ecoregion. Not only does no one live there, but the islands are off-limits to visitors, too.
The first people to set foot on the islands were European explorers; the region’s massive fur seal population meant it was a virtual treasure trove for whalers and seal hunters. From 1805 to 1807, tens of thousands of seal skins (including a single shipment that contained 80,000 skins) were exported from the Antipodes Islands. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the local seal population had been decimated, and the boom times ended.
Later, new buildings were constructed on the remote volcanic islands. In 1886, a castaway depot was built in order to provide shelter and stores intended to keep shipwrecked crews alive until they could be rescued. Castaway depots were built on a number of islands in the sub-antarctic region, and typically included items like tinned meat and cooking utensils to water-tight boots, flannel clothes, and ammunition.
Provisioning of the Antipodes Islands castaway depot ended in 1929, two decades after it had saved the lives of the crew of the President Felix Faure, who spent 60 days on the island in 1908 before being rescued by the warship HMS Pegasus. Today, the historic Antipodes Islands castaway depot stands quietly amid the rolling terrain on the north side of the abandoned island.
3. Bishop Rock, Isles of Scilly, UK
Image: Richard Knights
Situated in the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, Bishop Rock is the world’s smallest island housing a permanent structure, according to the Guinness Book of World Records and Amusing Planet. That building is a lighthouse, and it’s the second one to be built there. The first was washed away in 1850 - before the lighting apparatus could even be installed - and the second was automated and essentially deserted in 1992.
The tiny island - which is, as its name suggests, merely a rock - has a dubious place in history. At the end of the 13th century, John de Allet ruled that convicted criminals were to be sent to the island with a pitcher of water and two barley loaves, then left at the mercy of the sea.
Various ships have been wrecked on and around Bishop Rock over the centuries, leading to the construction of the lighthouse which, even today, is the second tallest in Britain. The fact that it was once the world’s smallest landmass with a building on it perhaps now makes Bishop Rock the smallest abandoned island, also.
4. Pollepel Island, USA
Image: Bing Maps
The ruins that stand on Pollepel Island look like the remains of a castle out of a fairy tale, and they’re certainly something you don’t expect to see on an island in the Hudson River. Its name does come from a local fairy tale, in fact, one that tells of a young woman named Polly Pell who was trapped on the river by breaking ice. She was rescued by her sweetheart, and lived happily ever after.
The island itself has had five private owners, including the castle’s builder, Frank Bannerman. A Scottish immigrant, Bannerman started out in the scrap business and made such a living that he was eventually in a position to buy entire military ships deemed to be surplus scrap. At the end of the Spanish American War, he bought out 90 percent of seized goods, and needed somewhere to store the massive cache of weapons and ammunition. Thus he constructed the mighty Bannerman’s Castle as a warehouse for his business.
When Bannerman died in 1918, the business continued. In 1967, the Bannerman’s Castle and Pollepel Island were sold to New York State, and any remaining military were donated to the Smithsonian. Fire swept through the abandoned island structure in 1968, and now the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc. is helping to preserve what remains.
5. Ross Island, Andaman Islands
Image: Pulkit Sinha
Ross Island, located in India’s Andaman Islands, was once the administrative headquarters for the British military who oversaw the island chain. The outpost was active from 1858 to 1941, when an earthquake destroyed so much of the settlement that its inhabitants moved elsewhere until leaving completely in 1942.
Image: Aliven Sarkar
Today, the haunting ruins of the military outpost are still there, and they’re still impressive. The ruins of the bakery, water treatment plant, church, hospital, tennis courts and even the printing press still stand, alongside the once-grand Chief Commissioner’s residence. There’s still elegance on Ross Island, especially in the remains of gardens and dance halls, ballrooms and an open-air theater.
After the British abandoned the island, it was occupied by Japan until 1945. Ross was recaptured by the Allies and then once again deserted. Today, there is a small museum on the virtually abandoned island.
6. Suakin Island, Sudan
Image: Bing Maps
Suakin is an ancient port city built on an island in the Red Sea connected to the mainland by a causeway. But with the construction of Port Sudan in the early 20th century, Suakin lost its standing as an important trade stop.
During its heyday, it was at the center of trade routes transporting everything from spices, silks and perfumes to cotton, hides and ivory. Huge caravans of hundreds of camels would pass through the city, which formed a centre (pdf) of trade between Egypt, Italy and India. It’s thought the first settlers built there before 3000 BC, and thousands of years of occupation came to an end in the early 1900s.
As early as 1927, efforts were made to preserve the surviving buildings. Legal issues over who owns the island and the property stand in the way of conservation, and attempts to stabilize decaying buildings have been plagued with financial problems. In 2016, new attention was given to the project and to the preservation of ancient pilgrimage routes that are still traveled today.
7. Rainsford Island, USA
Image: Doc Searls
Rainsford Island is situated in Boston Harbor and boasts varied history that’s reflected in the few ruins that are left today. Anyone sailing past might see a few foundations and the remains of a sea wall, but a look through old archival photos show something completely different.
Image: Robert Salmon
The island was named for the first person granted rights to graze animals there: a farmer called Edward Rainsford. That was in 1636, and it wasn’t until 1737 that a quarantine hospital was built at the site. It remained in operation for more than a century, housing smallpox sufferers and seeing countless people buried in the the now abandoned island’s cemeteries. When the hospital closed in 1852, it was briefly turned into an almshouse.
Civil War veterans lived there until 1882, when it became a facility for female paupers. Next, it was turned into the Suffolk School for Boys, and the school’s closure in 1920 brought with it the final abandonment of Rainsford Island. (See also: Puritan City Urbex: 10 Abandoned Places in Boston, Massachusetts.)
8. Bear Island, Svalbard Archipelago, Norway
Image: Bing Maps
The remote Bear Island, or Bjornoya, in the Svalbard Archipelago, was first discovered by the Dutch in 1596, but a 1920 treaty placed it under the control of Norway. The island - and the area surrounding it - was declared a nature reserve in 2002, and for most of its recent history it’s been abandoned save for a few people who man the island’s meteorological station.
Image: Auguste Mayer
The craggy, frost-covered Bear Island is dotted with the remains of settlements, although none were occupied for long. A ruined whaling station dating to the early 20th century still sits on a bay to the southeast. To the northeast are the remnants of a coal mining settlement that lasted for just nine years (beginning in 1916) before it was deemed unprofitable.
There was a brief conflict between Russia and Germany, who both wanted to claim rights to Bear Island due to its strategic location, but neither every truly occupied it save for building the occasional weather station and prowling the nearby waters. At the end of World War Two, some of the last German soldiers surrendered to Norway on Bear Island, after a failed attempt to establish their own weather station.
9. Puffin Island, Anglesey, Wales
Image: Robin Drayton
Today, Puffin Island has been abandoned by everyone but, as its name suggest, puffins. The island sits off the coast of Wales, and it’s been designated as a special nature reserve that’s home to the puffins and several other seabird species. Visitors can no longer land there, but boat tours provide as up-close-and-personal a look as you’re going to get to these beautiful birds off the eastern tip of Anglesey.
The island was first inhabited in the 5th or 6th century. Back then, it was the site of the retirement hermitage of Saint Seiriol. In 630, Puffin Island gave shelter to a king fleeing Northumbrian invaders, and later became the site of a 12th century monastery.
Image: Nigel Williams
According to legend, whenever the monks who lived there bickered and argued amongst themselves, a plague of mice would overrun the storerooms and destroy their food supply. Parts of the abandoned island’s monastery still stand, along with a 19th century cottage, a deserted telegraph station, and the nearby Trwyn Du Lighthouse.
10. Rosario Islands, Colombia
Image: Mover el Bigote
The Rosario Islands, or Islas del Rosario, lie about 60 miles off the coast of Colombia. They’re breathtakingly beautiful, and not all of them are abandoned. The area is a designated national park, and visitors can swim and snorkel through waters that contain one of Colombia’s greatest natural treasures: a coral reef and its ecosystem.
Some of the islands, however, have been built on and abandoned, some of them part of the empire of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Escobar, along with his higher-ups, set up shop on a series of the small islands off the Colombian coast. What remains are the derelict shells of nightclubs and villas, empty pools and playgrounds. Messy Nessy Chic took a look at these islands, which were abandoned after Escobar’s death in 1993. What remains offers an eerie glimpse back into one of the darkest, most powerful drug empires the world has ever seen.
Top image: Historic buildings at Herschel Island. Credit: Maedward/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]