10 Uninhabited Islands and Why Nobody Lives on Them

Erik Oberg/Island Conservation, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Erik Oberg/Island Conservation, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Brendon Grimshaw purchased Moyenne Island in the Indian Ocean in 1964 for $20,000, quit his job in 1973 to move there, and spent the next 40 years developing it into a paradise, cultivating and protecting flora and fauna native to the Seychelles. Now 86, Grimshaw's island is worth millions to developers, but he is determined that it remain a nature preserve after his death.

There are still many abandoned and uninhabited islands around the world. Why isn't there anyone living on them? After all, 270 people live on Tristan de Cunha, which is 2430 kilometers from the next inhabited island! The reasons islands remain uninhabited are financial, political, environmental, or religious -or a combination of those reasons.

1. ŌKUNOSHIMA ISLAND

Okunoshima Island, Japan
Get Hiroshima.com, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Three kilometers off the coast of Japan, Ōkunoshima Island is overrun with rabbits, which are not a native species. But there are no human residents on Ōkunoshima Island. It was once the site of a chemical weapons plant, turning out poison gas for the Japanese Imperial Army from 1929 to 1945. The Allied Occupation Forces dismantled the plant and let laboratory animals go free (hence the rabbits). Japan did not speak of Ōkunoshima for many years. Then in 1988, the Ōkunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened on the site. Tourists take the ferry to the island to interact with the friendly rabbits more than to see the museum.

2. ANTIPODES ISLANDS

Castaway Hut in Antipodes Islands, New Zealand
LawrieM, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Antipodes are a group of volcanic islands south of New Zealand. The cold climate and harsh winds make the islands too inhospitable a place to live. It is known for numerous shipwrecks and deaths, some from trying to survive on the islands, despite supplies being left there in castaway huts, as seen in the photograph. Two people died by shipwreck there as recently as 1999.

3. JACO ISLAND

Jaco Island
Isabel Nolasco, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Jaco Island in East Timor has no permanent inhabitants because locals consider it sacred land. However, that does not mean they won't accommodate tourists. Day trips as well as camping on the island is encouraged. Local fishermen double as vendors to the tourists. Since 2007, Jaco Island is part of Nino Konis Santana National Park.

4. CLIPPERTON ISLAND

Clipperton Island
Shannon Rankin, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Clipperton Island is actually a coral atoll south of Mexico and west of Guatemala in the Pacific. It was claimed first by the French, then Americans, who mined it for guano. Mexico took possession in 1897, and allowed a British company to mine guano there. In 1914, the Mexican civil war caused the island's 100 or so residents to be cut off from transportation and supplies. In 1917, the last surviving islanders, three women, were rescued and evacuated. Ownership reverted to France, which manned a lighthouse on Clipperton Island, but after World War II it was completely abandoned. There are occasional scientific expeditions to the atoll.

5. NORTH BROTHER ISLAND

How can an island in the East River in New York City be forgotten? Ah, because it’s a protected bird sancutary, and therefore off-limits to the public. Still, North Brother Island has quite a history. Riverside Hospital opened a quarantine facility for smallpox patients on the 20-acre island in 1885. The hospital later took in patients with other communicable diseases, such as venereal disease and typhoid. It was here that Typhoid Mary was housed for two decades until her death in 1938. The hospital closed in 1942, but the buildings were used for veteran's housing for a while, then as a rehab center for young drug addicts, but corruption, abuse, and rights violations forced the facility to close for good in 1963. The buildings still stand in their ruined state, and are said to be haunted by the many who died or suffered there.

6. BATTLESHIP ISLAND

Hashima Island in Japan is often referred to as Battleship Island because that's what it looks like. About 15 kilometers from Nagasaki, the island sat above a profitable coal seam that was mined from 1887 until 1974. Miners and their families lived on the island, which is only around 15 acres. At its height, Hashima Island had over 5000 residents, densely packed into large apartment blocks. When the coal business fizzled, those buildings were left empty and derelict. It became dangerous to even set foot on the island. However, the uninhabited island was opened to tourism in 2009.

7. FORT CARROLL ISLAND

Fort Carroll, Baltimore
WorldIslandInfo.com, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

In 1847, the U.S. military built Fort Carroll to protect Baltimore right in the middle of the Patapsco River. The site was selected because experience showed that a defensive fort built too close to a city created more problems than it solved. The artificial island was built under the supervision of a young Robert E. Lee, who also designed the island's hexagonal shape. The fort was still incomplete by the time the Civil War began. Construction was halted, and by the time the war was over, the facility's insufficiency became obvious. The fort was modernized, but not in time to be of much use during the Spanish-American War. Every time the fort was slowly modernized, it became obsolete again. By 1921, the army had abandoned Fort Carroll for good. The island was sold to a private developer in 1958, but various plans to use it proved too difficult and expensive to carry out. The fort remains, though slowly crumbling into ruin

8. LAZZARETTO NUOVO

Lazzaretto Nuovo, Venice, Italy
Carlo Volebele Vay, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Lazzaretto Nuovo is an island situated at the entrance of the lagoon that envelops Venice, Italy. It was a monastery in medieval times, then in 1468 was designated as a quarantine area for any ships approaching Venice, to protect the city from the plague. This continued until the 18th century, when the quarantine facilities were abandoned, and the Lazzeretto Nuovo eventually became a military base. The Italian Army abandoned the site in 1975, and it suffered years of neglect. Then community efforts turned it into a cultural museum site, now supported by the Italian Ministry of Arts and Culture. The island is now open for tourism.

9. TREE ISLAND

Tree Island among the Paracel Islands, South China Sea
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tree Island in the South China Sea is one of the Paracel Islands under disputed ownership. It is administered by China's Hainan Province, but like the other Paracel Islands, is claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan as well. Tourists can visit the island with permission, but the only inhabitants are military troops who are stationed there temporarily.

10. PALMYRA ATOLL

Palmyra Atoll
Erik Oberg/Island Conservation, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Palmyra Atoll is 1000 miles south of Hawaii, and is a territory owned by the United States. However, as isolated as it is, it is officially uninhabited and unorganized. The U.S. military built an airstrip there during World War II, which has fallen into ruin. The atoll now is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, with the exception of Cooper Island, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Palmyra Atoll was the setting for a double murder in 1974 which became the basis for the novel and then miniseries called And the Sea Will Tell.

If you want to buy an island for yourself, there are real estate agents who specialize in such deals. And there are plenty of islands for sale -just make sure you find out why it is uninhabited or for sale before you close the deal!

11 Apps That Will Make You Feel Smarter

Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Encased beneath the delicate surface of your smartphone is what seems like practically all the knowledge in the world, both past and present. This is, in a word, awesome. It’s also, in a different word, overwhelming. Deciding you’d like to take advantage of that unfettered access to learn a thing or two is easy—deciding where to start isn’t quite so straightforward. To jumpstart your quest to pick up some information without making any serious financial or time commitment, we’ve assembled a list of apps that will definitely make you feel smarter, no matter what topic you’re interested in.

1. Today in History

This free app takes the daunting yet admirable goal of “wanting to learn more about history” and breaks it up into daily digestible pieces that cover events, births, deaths, holidays, and more from a variety of time periods and places. You can browse by category—technology, entertainment, science, and sports, to name a few—or you can visit the “events” tab to see a timeline of important events from years past. The stories are paired with engaging images, and you can personalize notifications to occur just once a day or much more often. In addition to helping you fill in the gaps of your historical knowledge, it’s also an often-heartening daily reminder of just how far we’ve come in the world (and great fodder for water-cooler conversation when you have nothing to say about the weather).

Download: iOS

2. TED

In the last several years, TED Talks have become an extremely popular way to learn about topics you may not have thought to seek out on your own. Having said that, you don’t necessarily have time to watch a TED video every time one appears on your Facebook timeline. The TED app is a perfect way to keep track of the latest and greatest TED videos on your own time—you can see what’s trending, get personalized recommendations, download videos for offline viewing, and save videos to your own watch list. There’s even a “Surprise Me!” feature that will offer you a video recommendation outside of your interests.

Download: iOS, Android

3. DailyArt

Even if you can pick a Picasso painting out of a lineup, how deep does your art knowledge really go? DailyArt educates art aficionados and rookies alike by serving them one artwork each day from a collection of more than 2000 pieces, complete with all of its basic information and history, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the artwork and/or artist, too. You can swipe through past days’ entries, explore more than 700 artist biographies and information about more than 500 museums, and even bookmark artworks to your own list of favorites. It’s a low-investment way to foster a passion for art, whether or not you have one to begin with.

Download: iOS, Android

4. Flipboard

In a world where you end up completely behind the times just by neglecting to check a certain app for a few hours, it can feel impossible to stay on top of what’s going on. Flipboard makes it easy by aggregating both news and social media in one streamlined place. You decide which news sources and topics will appear in your feed—from there, all you really need to do is flip through the content, and Flipboard will update your feed based on what you interact with and suggest other topics you might be interested in adding. There’s also an even simpler “Daily Edition” feature, a daily roundup of the top stories from each category.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Lumosity

Lumosity begins with a 10-minute “Fit Test,” a series of three games that evaluate cognitive ability in areas like memory and attention span. It then uses your scores to devise a personalized brain-training program with games guaranteed to improve those scores. While information-based apps help you fill your brain with new knowledge, Lumosity helps you feel like you’re actually expanding your brain’s boundaries in ways that will make daily life easier. For example, if you specify that you’d like to work on losing fewer objects and better remembering people’s names, Lumosity will offer you a game that targets those areas of your brain. And, since you probably have a few minutes to kill every day while waiting for a bus to come or water to boil, why not give your brain a little exercise?

Download: iOS, Android

6. Vocabulary.com

This app—which both TIME and Fast Company called “addictive”—is worth the one-time cost of $3 for its dictionary alone, which includes definitions, helpful notes about how the word is usually used, and example sentences pulled from actual news articles. In addition to the dictionary, the app boasts an algorithm-based system for learning vocabulary where you play games to earn points and collect achievement badges. There are also more than 50,000 word lists that you can choose from, which cover everything from GRE prep to words in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Download: iOS

7. NASA

Between the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the ever-present hope for a Mars landing (not to mention all the space-related movies, both Star Wars and otherwise), NASA is definitely hot right now—and its app is a great way to stay awestruck and in-the-know. In addition to featuring more than 17,000 images, 360-degree videos, launch updates, and breaking news stories, it also includes a tracker for the International Space Station (ISS), and it’ll even send you notifications when the ISS is visible from your location.

Download: iOS, Android

8. National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge

The description of National Geographic’s GeoBee app opens with “This is a challenging game, so it's not for beginners...but do keep in mind that the National Geographic GeoBee is meant for kids in grades 4-8. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?” Though you’re probably not entering an elementary school geography bee any time soon (or ever), this app will help you find out how you’d fare as a participant—and, of course, give you the opportunity to improve your knowledge of world geography. After a few rounds of answering multiple choice trivia and locating places on an interactive map, you’ll never again feel lost while reading international news headlines.

Download: iOS, Android

9. Daily Random Facts

With an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from about 20,000 Apple user reviews, this Monkey Taps app practically needs no other endorsement. By just reading a sentence or two every day, you’ll quickly build an impressive arsenal of the type of grab-bag information that’ll make you everybody’s first choice for their trivia team. The app includes interesting facts about history, science, sports, life hacks, animals, the human body, and more—all you have to do is enable push notifications (or remember to visit the app every day on your own).

Download: iOS, Android

10. TheSkimm

If someone bottled that heavenly feeling of knowing what’s going on in the world and sold it to you for $3 a month, would you buy it? That’s basically what TheSkimm has done. Every weekday morning, the app feeds you need-to-know, nonpartisan news stories that’ll only take you about five minutes to consume. In addition to the daily digest, you can also listen to audio episodes that cover important news, read longer stories that break down complex topics like immigration and Brexit, and even get book, movie, and recipe recommendations. Not only does TheSkimm make you feel like you’re capable of understanding basically everything, it also does a great job of explaining how and why global news is relevant to you.

Download: iOS, Android

11. iNaturalist

When you stop to smell the flowers, the iNaturalist app will tell you what kind of flowers you’re actually smelling. Snap a photo of any plant or animal in your area, and iNaturalist will use crowdsourced image data to identify the species. With more than 400,000 users, there’s a good chance iNaturalist already has enough images of your mystery organism to provide you with the correct answer—but if not, you can also chat with knowledgeable scientists and naturalists within the app who may know the answer themselves. And, of course, it works both ways: Your uploaded images will help other curious observationalists identify flora and fauna in the future, and you can even explore the map to see which species have been logged around you.

Download: iOS, Android

Welcome to Cool, California. Population: 2520

Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Alan Levine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s not hard to find U.S. towns with some pretty weird (and sometimes depressing) names, so we shouldn't be surprised that people have the option of settling in the tiny town of Cool, California.

Initially named Cave Valley, due to the limestone formations nearby, the town popped up around 1849 during the California Gold Rush. The population eventually grew to 4100 people.

It's unclear when the town went from Cave Valley to being Cool. One legend suggests that a beatnik named Todd Hausman bequeathed the name after passing through in the 1950s, but the veracity of that story is doubtful since the Cool Post Office was founded as early as 1885. According to Condé Nast Traveler, records show that a reverend named Peter Y. Cool came out to pan gold and settled in the town in 1850, possibly serving as the source of the change.

Whatever the origin of its name, the town of Cool has ample branding opportunities. There’s the Cool Grocery Store and the Cool Beerwerks brewery and restaurant, which specializes in Hawaiian-Japanese fusion cuisine. Cool has held the Way Too Cool 50K Endurance Run every year since 1990.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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