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The idea of the mysterious island, untouched by civilisation, has inspired stories of shipwrecked sailors and undiscovered lifeforms throughout history.
The islands listed here have mostly remained separated from the modern world. Some of them are a refuge for exotic creatures, while others contain the remains of ancient civilisations. Here are seven of the world’s most mysterious islands:
7 Mysterious Islands Covered in this Article
1. Komodo Island (The Island of Dragons)
2. Easter Island (The Island of Statues)
3. Socotra (The Island of Bliss)
4. Ilha da Queimada Grande (The Island of Snakes)
5. Ramree Island (The Island of Crocodiles)
6. Palmyra Atoll (The Haunted Island)
7. Galápagos Islands (The Island of Tortoises)
1. Komodo Island
Where: Indonesian archipelago
Size: 390 km2
Here be dragons
In the midst of the Indian Ocean lies an island that is swarming with Komodo dragons, the largest lizard on earth.
It's one of 17,508 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, and for some reason, it's the only one with such a high concentration of komodos.
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Rumours of an island inhabited by dragons spread among sailors passing through the region during the early 20th century, and eventually, a Dutch Lieutenant named Steyn van Hensbroek arrived to investigate. Thus, the komodo dragon was discovered and recorded for the first time by a European.
The island is also the location of a pink beach, one of only seven known worldwide. The pink sand is formed by mixing white sand with organisms known as Foraminifera.
The island has a population of about 2,000 people, mostly descended from convicts who were exiled here.
2. Easter Island
Size: 163 m2
Also known by its Polynesian name Rapa Nui, this island is famous for its stone statues (known as moai), believed to have been carved around the 13th to 15th centuries.
The island's inhabitants not only created these statues but transported hundreds of them from the quarry to the island's perimeter, where they were placed on stone platforms. The tallest statue stands at 10 meters high.
Why the Polynesians made them is unknown. It's believed they are representations of the island people's ancestors.
The island has a population of around 7,000, mostly based in the village of Hanga Roa on the west coast. For centuries, the natives fished, raised chickens and cultivated sweet potatoes. Now, the island's economy is mostly based on tourism.
The island was formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago, but the three volcanoes situated there are dormant.
3. Socotra Island
Where: Between Somalia and Yemen
Size: 3796 km2
Unlike most islands, Socotra was not created by volcanic activity but by the shifting of tectonic plates. It's a piece of Africa that floated away while the continents were being formed
The name of the island is derived from the Sanskrit term dvipa sukhadhara, which translates to "island of bliss". It is certainly that. Turquoise waters lap against the quiet coastline that in turn surrounds rocky dunes replete with caves and lagoons.
The hermit of the island
In one of these caves lives Ellai, a hermit who fishes by hand and cooks the fish over an open fire by night, as the ancient Socotri once did.
In the early 2000s, a group of archaeologists asked Ellai if they could excavate the cave. They found that it was connected to a network of caverns that contained rock paints dating back 2,000 years.
The dragon's blood
One-third of the island's plant species and 90% of its reptile species are not found anywhere else in the world. These include umbrella-like trees that produce a resin called "dragon's blood", which gladiators used to rub on themselves to help their wounds heal quicker.
4. Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island)
Where: Off the coast of Brazil
Size: 430,000 m2
This is what happens when the ecosystem of an island is able to evolve for thousands of years without human intervention. You get an island full of deadly snakes.
The venom of the golden lancehead viper can kill a human in under an hour, and the island is swarming with them.
Around 11,000 years ago, rising sea levels separated the island from the mainland. The snakes were stranded without any other land-dwelling predators to threaten them.
The Brazilian government strictly controls access to the island; a doctor must accompany anyone visiting.
Researchers are allowed to travel here, and the Brazilian navy occasionally stops by to service a lighthouse which is wholly automated because anyone who stayed on the island to operate it would probably be killed by the snakes.
5. Ramree Island
Where: Off the coast of Burma
Climate: Tropical monsoon
Size: 1350 km2
The crocodile massacre
In 1945, British and Japanese forces clashed here as they fought for control of Burma. With British troops closing in, the Japanese were forced to retreat into the surrounding swamps.
On a night of pure horror, hundreds of Japanese soldiers were eaten by saltwater crocodiles. Out of 1,000 troops that entered the swamp, only a reported 480 survived. The Guinness World Records listed this as the deadliest disaster suffered by humans from animals.
The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of the wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on Earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left.
from Wildlife Sketches Near and Far by Bruce Stanley Wright.
The island is still home to a population of crocodiles, although their numbers have dwindled due to hide-hunting.
Despite its grisly reputation, it has since become the location of a major pipeline that transports oil and gas from the Indian Ocean to China.
6. Palmyra Atoll
Where: Between Hawaii and American Samoa
Climate: Tropical rainforest
Size: 11.9 km2
A ring of 26 islets surrounded by colorful coral roofs hosting a myriad of ocean creatures, Palmyra Atoll sits in the midst of the Pacific Ocean with no signs of human civilisation for miles around.
A haunted island
Though the island, with its turquoise lagoons and white sand beaches, seems the perfect picture of a tropical paradise, it has a reputation similar to that of the Bermuda Triangle. Several ships and planes have gone missing here under mysterious circumstances.
In 1855, a US whaling ship ran aground at the island, but when rescue teams arrived, they found no trace of the ship.
In 1870, the bodies of shipwrecked sailors were discovered strewn about the island, with wounds suggesting they had been brutally murdered. No one knows who killed them or why.
Planes have inexplicably dropped out of the sky or disappeared off the radar while flying over the region.
These are just a few of the incidents that give Palmyra Atoll its ghostly reputation.
However, this didn't stop Roger Lextrait from spending eight years living on the island, where he built himself a house out of wood and drank cocktails every day at 5 pm while his dog hunted rats.
7. Galápagos Islands
Where: Off the coast of Ecuador
Size: 8010 km2
Discovered in 1595 by a traveller whose ship had drifted off course, the island is named for the giant tortoises that populate it. These tortoises have an average lifespan of 150 years, making them one of the most long-lived species on the planet.
Other fantastic creatures that live on the island include lava lizards, penguins, sea lions, and iguanas that swim and eat seaweed.
The island was uninhabited by humans until the 1800s, so its ecosystem had plenty of time to evolve without interference. Some of the creatures found here have been on the island since prehistoric times.
The island was formed by volcanoes and contains several that are periodically active. At certain points, the lava mixes with the ocean, spewing out clouds of smoke.
Charles Darwin's inspiration
Charles Darwin visited the island in 1835, and its unique lifeforms inspired his famous work On the Origin of the Species (1859). The Charles Darwin Research Station was founded here in 1959 as part of efforts to promote conservation and scientific study.
Natasha Geiling. 2014, June 25. This Terrifying Brazilian Island Has the Highest Concentration of Venomous Snakes Anywhere in the World (Smithsonian Magazine).
General information. Britannica.
William DeLong. 2021, November 7. “A Cacophony Of Hell”: The Story Of The Ramree Island Crocodile Massacre (All that's interesting).
Geri Moore. 2021, December 10. The hermit of Socotra Island (BBC).
Hannah Bergin. 2016, November 1. Why Palmyra Is The Haunted Island Of The Pacific (The Culture Trip).
Roger Lextrait. 2020 December 31. I agreed to live alone on the Palmyra Atoll for one year. Here's why and how I stayed for eight (NBC News).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.