Six Uninhabited Islands of the World
Technological advances have enabled humans to penetrate and set up civilization on most of the earth’s surface. Yet, the earth has its share of uninhabited places. The reasons could be ethical, environmental, financial or even paranormal. Some of these places have dark histories connected to human activities, while others have Mother Nature rendering the place unliveable.
Hashima Island, Nagasaki
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Lying about 15 km away from the city of Nagasaki is Hashima Island. While there are around 505 islands scattered around the vicinity, this island stands out due to its history and the large ominous concrete buildings standing on it. The island was the site where coal was extracted from 1887 to 1974, to aid with Japan’s industrialization.
Coal was first discovered here in 1810, and a few years later, an apartment block was built to accommodate the growing number of miners. In the coming years, seawalls, more apartments, a school, hospital, kindergarten, town hall, community centre, cinema, swimming pool, shops and rooftop gardens have been added. The island was a target for typhoons, so the entire structures were built with concrete, which will explain why some of the buildings are still standing now. All this seems normal enough- work for the people, coal and industrialisation for the country. But from the beginning of the 1930s, Japan began bringing over conscripted Korean civilians and Chinese Prisoners of War to work in the coal mines. The workers had to endure inhumane conditions- near starvation, being fed with residues, malnutrition, and searing temperatures. Ultimately, thousands of workers perished on the island, turning it into a graveyard. While many succumbed to this, others attempted to climb over the seawall and be drowned. Many committed suicide rather than endure the inhumane conditions for another day. If you need a clearer picture of what happened on the island, watch The Battleship Island (2017.)
In the 1960s, petroleum replaced coal. All the coal mines across the country began shutting down, and those on Hashima Island were no exception. The inhabitants and the workers who managed to survive the horror of the island were evacuated by April 1974. For many years, the island was shut down. Then, in the 2000s, interest in the island arose due to the intact concrete buildings, and by 2009, the island was open to tourists for day visits. Entry into certain buildings is prohibited on the grounds that it’s too dangerous. While many see just a tourist spot, the surviving former workers remember the place differently.
North Brother Island, New York
- credit@ Wikipedia
The bustling city of New York has an uninhabited island in plain sight, with quite an interesting history. North Brother Island is located on the East River, between the Bronx and Riker’s Island.
The island remained unoccupied till 1885, when the city purchased the land to build the Riverside Hospital. The hospital functioned as a treatment and quarantine centre for those suffering from small pox, tuberculosis, yellow fever and typhus. While many patients resided on the island, none were as famous as ‘Typhoid’ Mary Mallon, the cook who was an asymptomatic typhoid carrier. Mallon was first quarantined on the island in 1907 when medical authorities found out through investigations that she had infected seven out of eight families that she worked for. After being released from quarantine three years later, Mallon returned to her profession as a cook despite instructions not to do so. After numerous outbreaks caused by her, Mallon was forcibly returned to the hospital in 1915, where she remained until her death from pneumonia in 1938.
In 1905, more than a thousand people died when a steamship caught fire near the island. Only around 321 survived. Until the September 11 attacks, many considered it to be the worst loss of life in the history of New York. Today, a memorial fountain for the dead stands in Tompkins Square in the East Village.
After World War II, the hospital was reopened again to house war veterans and later to treat heroin addicts. In 1963, it was closed down permanently and left to rot. Today, the island is a bird sanctuary and one of the largest nesting colonies for the Black-Crowned Night Herons, while it is prohibited to the public.
Antipodes Islands, New Zealand
- credit@ Wikipedia
The Antipodes Islands are a group of six small islands, amongst which the Antipodes is the largest and in the centre. The island remained undiscovered till 1800. This volcanic island belongs to the sub- Antarctic region and is one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. It is extremely cold, extremely windy and extremely wet. Moreover, the island’s basalt cliffs, caves and rocky landing points make it dangerous and almost inaccessible. Most of the time, a thick mist clings to the island. The only way to access the island are two rocky points, and the boat has to keep moving at a speed so as not to be swallowed by a sea of kelp, but not so fast as to crash land on the rocks. One of the Antipodes’ smaller islands, Leeward, is so rugged that no human has been able to set foot on it. Even a helicopter landing is deemed dangerous. The roaring wind has caused many shipwrecks.
The Antipodes Island was named so because, geographically, it is the furthest landmass from London than any other on earth. The Maori name of the island, Moutere Mahue, roughly translates to ‘forgotten island.’
However, the same conditions that have rendered the island inhospitable to humans, have made the island an excellent breeding ground for birds and marine animals alike. There are no trees here, only thick, dense tussocks. Parakeets, penguins, elephant seals, snipes, giant petrels, and albatrosses. Due to the absence of trees, the parakeets burrow in the ground. Some of the species found here are endemic to the island. And due to the thriving wildlife with no human threat, many compare the island to the Galapagos Islands.
The island has gained international attention and was declared a nature reserve. Landing on the island is prohibited unless you have a permit and are accompanied by an official.
Ōkunoshima Island, Japan
Ōkunoshima Island has gained the nickname, Rabbit Island, due to the countless number of rabbits on it. While tourists flock to the island on day trips to feed and fawn over the furry bunnies, why the island remains uninhabited and how the rabbits came to be is another story.
The island was occupied by a couple of fishing families before it was taken over by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1925. A programme to develop chemical warfare was initiated by building chemical plants. The island was chosen because it was isolated, secure and the distance from the mainland ensured safety from any disaster.
Despite the Geneva Protocol that banned the use of chemical warfare, Japan went on to create a staggering amount of poisonous gas like mustard gas and tear gas to use in the war. Due to the ban, Japan took great efforts to keep the programme under wraps, even removing the island from some maps. The residents and any employees who were taken over to the island were not told what exactly was being manufactured in the plants. Many perished under the harsh working conditions and due to illness resulting from toxic exposure.
So where do the rabbits come from? These harmless creatures were shipped to the island in order to test the chemicals manufactured here. When World War II ended, all evidence related to Japan’s activities was destroyed. Documents were destroyed, and the gas was disposed of by dumping, burning or burying it. Anyone who had the remotest connection to the island was told to be silent, and decades would pass before any victims exposed to the toxic gas would receive any government aid. The rabbits were released on the island, and in the absence of humans, multiplied to a large number.
Today, the island is open for day visits. The Poison Gas Museum was opened here in 1988 to educate visitors on the dangers of chemical warfare and poison gas. Many workers’ families donated artefacts to the museum to spread awareness about the past. Many of the buildings are in ruins, but recognisable. Visitors are allowed to feed the rabbits, and dogs, cats and hunting are prohibited.
Ross Island, Andaman and Nicobar, India
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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are famous for the beaches. However, one of the islands, formerly known as Ross Island, named after Captain Daniel Ross, comes with a history dating back to the 1780s.
The island was occupied in 1782. The British used the island as an administrative headquarters for many decades. A sanatorium was built here in 1782, and then again in 1857. More and more important government offices came up over the decades. Other buildings included a church, swimming pools, tennis courts, grand ballrooms, a hospital, printing press, water treatment plants and government houses. All the buildings were built by Indian prisoners.
The island was a thriving penal settlement until 1941 and all the glory came to ruins. An earthquake of disastrous magnitude hit, forcing all the inhabitants to be evacuated. The ruins of the bygone era remain on the island, which tourists are allowed to visit. Ross Island was renamed as the Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose Dweep by Narendra Modi in 2018. The place is a protected forest and teeming with wildlife. However, all activities cease by nightfall, as the administration forbids any night overstays or settlement on the island.
La Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico
Most of us would have heard of the creepy island of dolls in Mexico. The island originally belonged to Don Julian Santana Barrera. Don Julian sold vegetables and then spent his time drinking pulque, an alcoholic drink traditional to Mexico.
According to legend, Don Julian found the body of a young girl who had drowned due to entanglement among lilies. The island got its name during the 1950s when Don Julian began hanging old dolls, often with broken limbs, on the trees and buildings. He is said to have experienced paranormal activities and the dolls were to ward off evil spirits. To this day, the locals believe the island to be haunted.
Day visits are allowed, and even if overnight stays were permitted, it is doubtful whether anyone would do so. Apart from the hundreds of dolls staring at you, there is a tiny museum with newspaper articles about the island and the previous owner. In addition, there exists a store and three rooms, one of which was used as a bedroom and where Don Julian is believed to have made the first doll. Some visitors hang their own dolls on the island too.
To end the tale on a creepier note, Don Julian’s body was found on the exact spot where the little girl was found.