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!

Meet the Exclusive Travel Club for People Who Have Been to 100 or More Countries

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

There are about 195 countries in the world—depending on how you define “country”—and most people have only visited a handful of them. However, for those with the means to travel far and wide, there’s one club that unites these wanderlust-stricken souls.

According to Lonely Planet, an exclusive organization called the Travelers’ Century Club only accepts members who have been to 100 or more countries and territories. The non-profit social club is headquartered in Los Angeles but has more than 20 chapters in the U.S., Canada, UK, Mediterranean, and Central Europe.

A few avid travelers founded the club back in 1954, and within six years it had attracted 43 members. Now, the club boasts about 1500 members, whose collective travels would put most casual vacationers to shame.

The club’s slogan is “World travel: the passport to peace through understanding,” and its mission falls in line with this ethos. Travelers’ Century Club board member Gloria McCoy tells Lonely Planet their members “seek to truly experience and appreciate the people and cultures around the world.”

By holding regular social events, inviting guest speakers, and offering presentations about different destinations, the club gives members the chance to learn about other parts of the world they might not have considered visiting. Members also have access to files containing “exclusive info” about far-flung and hard-to-visit destinations, all of which were written by club members who have personally been there and done that. Lastly, the club is a way for members to connect with like-minded people and perhaps even find new travel buddies.

The club’s official list of countries and territories visited totals 327. This is partly because it includes territories that aren’t always considered countries by the international community, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Palestine. To join, members must fill out an application form and select the countries they’ve been to—even if they were just short trips or layovers. There's a $100 initiation fee, plus yearly dues.

If you aren't quite there yet, travelers who have been to 50 countries and territories can qualify as provisional members. This gives them access to meetings and some of the “bragging rights” that Travelers’ Century Club members get to enjoy.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

Inside the Coldest City in the World, Where It Snows 270 Days a Year

iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets
iStock.com/Alexander Mozgovets

In much of the Northern Hemisphere right now, it’s getting colder and darker and the winter blues are setting in. But few places get it quite as bad as Norilsk, Russia, where residents won’t see a sunrise until mid-January. Worse yet, it's arguably the coldest city in the world.

One of two Siberian cities built in the continuous permafrost zone, during the winter, the city of more than 175,000 people can see cold snaps as brutally low as -78°F. Overall, Norilsk boasts a yearlong average temperature of just 14°F. (Some will argue that the Siberian city of Yakutsk is colder, but that depends on how you want to slice it: Yakutsk is indisputably chillier in the winter—an average temperature of -42°F in January!—but it has much hotter summers and so, when measured by its yearly average, is warmer overall.)

Then there's the snow. Norilsk “is covered with snow for about 270 days a year,” Vincze Miklós writes for io9, “and the inhabitants must deal with snowstorms one day out of every three.”

It's also incredibly isolated. Of all the cities in the world with populations of 100,000 people or more, Norilsk is the farthest north. Despite its relatively large size, no roads lead to it. The city, located 1800 miles from Moscow, sits 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and can only be reached by plane or boat. Surrounded by thousands of miles of untouched wilderness, Norilsk is so cut off from the rest of the world that residents often refer to the rest of Russia as “the mainland.”

The city, we should stress, is on the mainland.

Despite it all, Norilsk is a relatively buzzing place. The city has public transportation, bars, cafes, churches, art galleries, a large theater, and plenty of modern amenities. And new people keep moving in.

The reason? Money.

Norilsk sits on one of the world’s biggest nickel, platinum, and palladium deposits, making it, according to the New York Times, Russia's richest city.

For much of the 20th century, those precious metals were mined by more than 600,000 prisoners detained in a nearby gulag. Today, the gulag is gone, and the people who work for the mines are paid rather handsomely for their work. With palladium selling for over $1000 an ounce, the metals extracted and smelted in the area—largely by one company, Norilsk Nickel—account for a whopping 2 percent of Russia’s entire GDP.

But there is a price to pay to live in Norilsk, and it has nothing to do with the cold. Mining has also made the city one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to National Geographic, “The amount of sulfur dioxide in the air is so high that vegetation in an almost 20-mile radius has died, and residents are forbidden from gathering berries or mushrooms due to high toxicity.” (That's a big deal, given that mushroom-hunting is one of Russia’s most beloved national pastimes.) Recently, mining activity caused the nearby Daldykan river to turn blood red. According to the Times, “At one point, the company belched more sulfur dioxide a year than all of France.”

Most residents are aware of the possible health consequences but don’t raise much of a fuss. "Norilsk Nickel feels like it owns the whole territory here," a citizen tells Victoria Fiore in her short documentary My Deadly Beautiful City, "so [people] are afraid to speak out against it." Their livelihood, after all, depends on the mine's success.

And besides, many people in Norilsk—a significant number of whom are descended from the prison laborers who helped build everything in this city—feel deeply connected to the isolated landscape they call home.

"It's beautiful and eternal," one man tells Fiore. "This is where I like to be."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER