17 abandoned islands around the world and the eerie stories behind them

Deception Island, Antarctica. Samantha Crimmin/Shutterstock
  • Many abandoned islands around the world have fascinating back stories.
  • Residents have been forced to flee islands due to volcanic eruptions, erosion, rockslides, and political turmoil.
  • Ōkunoshima Island doesn’t have any permanent inhabitants, but is now filled with a large population of wild rabbits that tourists can visit.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more.

Everyone loves the mystery and intrigue behind abandoned places.

But what if those abandoned places happen to be entire islands that are now devoid of humans?

From mysterious murders to volcanic explosions, keep scrolling for the fascinating tales behind 18 abandoned islands around the world.

Hashima Island in Japan had 5,000 inhabitants at its peak, but was left abandoned after its coal deposit ran out in the ’70s.

Hashima Island in Japan. Michel Godimus / Shutterstock

The Mitsubishi Corporation turned coal rich Hashima Island into a highly populated city full of apartment complexes, restaurants and schools to accommodate the island’s growing mining community. When the coal deposit under the island ran out, however, Mitsubishi left the once thriving metropolis to decay.

The island, now uninhabited for more than 40 years, only recently re-opened to tourists who love to explore the ruins that were featured in the 2012 James Bond film, “Skyfall.”

Residents of St. Kilda in Scotland were evacuated in 1930 and never returned.

The old Feather Store on the abandoned island of St Kilda. Martin Payne/Shutterstock

St. Kilda may be an important breeding site for puffins and other seabirds, but day-to-day life for humans on the island was far from ideal.

Inhabited from the Bronze Age onwards, St. Kilda’s population steadily decreased in the early 20th century as locals suffered from malnutrition, disease, and isolation – they had next to no contact to the outside world and were thus reliant on the island’s meager bounty. Eventually, the few remaining inhabitants were evacuated and resettled on the Scottish mainland in 1930.

Today, the island is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trust has restored many of the decaying homes, huts, and traditional turf roofs – and there’s even a bar on the island called The Puff Inn.

The Suakin Island Ancient Ruins once brought wealth and prosperity to Sudan.

Suakin Island’s ancient ruins in Sudan. Hopeful Realist/Shutterstock

The port of Suakin was originally developed by Ramses III in the 10th century BCE, and for the next 3,000 years, was a crucial trading port for large empires. It brought wealth and prosperity to Sudan, and was a luxurious gated island port with stunning buildings made of coral that featured intricate wood and stone carvings.

In the 19th century, it became a centre for East Africa slave trading, but started to shrink when the trade diminished. The only remnants of the thriving civilisation left today are the ruins of the coral buildings that once stood on the island.

Deception Island, an island in the Antarctic, was fought over by many different nations for many years — until its volcano erupted twice, destroying almost everything in its vicinity.

A general view of Spanish-Antarctic Base on Deception Island. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Hunters, whalers, and scientists have long been captivated by Deception Island: its been a Norwegian-Chilean whaling station, as well as a scientific research base for Chile, Argentina, and the UK.

Today, all of its old buildings are abandoned or partially destroyed thanks to the island’s active volcano – Deception Island is the volcano’s caldera – though Spain and Argentina conduct research here in the summer.

Although Deception Island is uninhabitable, photographers and tourists frequently visit it to catch a glimpse of its otherworldly landscape and wildlife, or to bathe in its natural hot springs.

Holland Island in Maryland simply disappeared over time due to erosion.

The last remaining house on the eroding island was toppled by a storm in 2010. ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Holland Island in Chesapeake Bay, a five-mile long island that was home to hundreds of seamen and farmers, eroded and basically disappeared into the sea. By 1922, a combination of shrinking land and severe flooding led all of the island’s residents to move away.

Since then, the island has continued to slowly become submerged into the water. In 2010, the only surviving home on the island was finally engulfed by rising tides and collapsed into the bay.

McNab’s Island in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was abandoned after World War II.

McNab’s Island in Nova Scotia. Charles Plant/Shutterstock

McNab’s Island was once home to a secret, Prohibition-era distillery, several military forts, Victorian gardens, and even a lighthouse, among many other structures that lay abandoned today.

McNab’s Island was settled by merchant Peter McNab in the 1780s, after having previously been used mostly by fisherman. His descendants lived on the island until 1934, but without other inhabitants the island eventually fell into disarray.

Today, the island is open to visitors.

Brentford Ait in London, England, used to house the Three Swans Pub, a notorious institution so rowdy it was shut down.

Brentford Ait (centre) on the River Thames in London in 1964. Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images

The 4.572-acre island on the Thames was once inhabited, and most famously home to the notorious Three Swans Pub, a bar and restaurant with a reputation for indecent behaviour and questionable guests. The pub’s rowdiness would reportedly get so out of hand that people across the river could hear the shenanigans.

One especially irritated neighbour, Robert Hunter, bought the property in 1812 and closed its doors for good. In the 1920s, the abandoned island was planted with trees meant to hide the nearby Brentford gasworks from neighbouring areas.

Ross Island in South Andaman, India, acted as a British penal colony for many years, and was known as the “Paris of the East.”

Remaining residential structures on Ross Island in India. Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

Control of Ross Island passed through several countries’ hands before it was ultimately abandoned.

In its prime, it was home to British officers who who operated a penal colony and jail on the island for many years, when it became known as the “Paris of the East.” The British residents made it their home with extravagant dance halls, bakeries, clubs, pools, and gardens, until 1941 brought an earthquake and an invasion by the Japanese, who claimed the land for their war bunkers.

Ross Island was then alternately claimed by the Japanese and British until 1979, when the island was given to the Indian Navy, which established a small base there.

Today, the island is overgrown with plants and root, but visitors can walk around the remains of the buildings or visit some of the small shops set up for tourists.

Dry Tortugas in Key West, Florida, was once a thriving shipping corridor, and the nation’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Dry Tortugas in Florida. Felix Lipov / Shutterstock

Named by Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513, Dry Tortugas went from a popular shipping corridor to the home of the Navy’s anti-piracy fortress (Fort Jefferson), which aimed to protect the shipping channel and the nation’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the fortress was never fully operational, it imprisoned many Civil War deserters and most notably a conspirator in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

After the Navy abandoned the base in 1874, President Roosevelt registered the fortress as a national monument and the entire island as a national park (Dry Tortugas consists of seven keys; Garden, Loggerhead, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle).

Visitors can access the island by boat, ferry, or seaplane.

The village of Ukivok on King Island in Alaska still stands after 50 years of abandonment.

A village on King Island pictured in 1929. Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The remains of the village of Ukivok on King Island have survived for 50 years, despite their decaying stilts and perilous location.

Home to a local Inupiat population who spent winters on the island hunting crabs and seals (when the water was too icy for fishing and whaling, which they did in the summer months), they were forced to abandon the island when Alaska’s Bureau of Indian affairs closed down their only school in the mid-1900s.

Without children there to help gather food for winter, the adults were forced to come back to the mainland as well.

During its peak, the village held about 200 people. It’s said that the reason behind the Bureau of Indian Affairs closing down the school was due to the potential danger of rock slides.

The abandoned school still stands untouched today.

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest barrier island — and it has a varied history.

Green walls in Cumberland Island. PaytonB/Shutterstock

Cumberland Island was once home to Native Americans, before becoming a Colonial settlement when the Spanish arrived. After French pirates attacked, burning most of what stood on the island to the ground, it became an English settlement, with forts designed to fend off the Spanish, before the island became a working plantation.

Its last iteration was as a holiday retreat for the Carnegie family, who built a huge mansion, known as the Dungeness House.

However, the home burned down in 1959. Some suspect that the fire was an act of arson.

Either way, you can still visit the remains today. While the Dungeness Mansion is the highlight of the island, you can also see the wildlife, as well as other structures in the area that still stand today.

San Giorgio in Alga, off the coast of Venice, Italy, was left uninhabited after World War II.

San Giorgio in Alga, Italy. Steve Boyko/Shutterstock

San Giorgio began as the site of a Benedictine monastery as early as 1,000 CE, and was home to various other monasteries until a fire ravaged the island. It became the location of a political prison in 1799, and held bunkers during World War I, which were later abandoned.

Once World War II began, the encampments on the island were used as a secret training base by the Nazis to learn how to plant underwater mines. But at the end of the war, the island was abandoned, and now only remnants of the buildings can be seen from the opposite shore.

Tourists have visited the island to see the ruins up close, though the military and religious artifacts have since been removed.

Poveglia Plague Island in Venice, Italy, is considered one of the most haunted places in the world — it’s where Black Plague sufferers were taken to die.

Poveglia Plague Island in Italy. Kagan Kaya/Shutterstock

Poveglia Plague Island was once where plague victims were shipped off from the 14th to 17th centuries, and is thus often considered one of the most haunted places on Earth, often likened to “the real Shutter Island.”

At the time, the island was basically just a quarantine colony: when people were sent there, it was to live and die in isolation. Over 160,000 infected people were said to have been sent there during their final days, and some estimate that more than 50% of the soil is made up of human ash.

In 1922, a mental hospital was opened on the island. It stayed open until 1968, despite rumours of questionable doctors conducting terrible experiments on patients. One doctor in particular was said to have tortured and killed his patients, until he was either killed or committed suicide.

Disney World’s Discovery Island in Bay Lake, Florida, was abandoned after conditions became too dangerous for tourists.

Disney World’s Discovery Island. Matt Sonswa/ YouTube

In 1974, Disney opened a bird sanctuary named “Treasure Island,” though it was rebranded as “Discovery Island” in 1978, featuring a range of exotic animals, an aviary, flamingo pool, and a beach for tourists. The island could only be accessed from a Disney resort boat or a Walt Disney World Cruise, and was known as a premiere tourist destination from the 1970s to the 1990s.

However, it closed in 1999 for various reasons, including a fear of wild-roaming alligators, alleged mishandling of animals, and deadly bacteria found in the park’s waters.

When it closed, the animals were moved to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Resort nearby, and the island was left to its own devices. Explorers are forbidden from its shores.

Ōkunoshima Island off the coast of Japan used to produce poison gas — now it’s full of friendly rabbits.

The island is home to more than 300 wild rabbits, which people can visit. INSIDER

Ōkunoshima Island is now known as “Rabbit Island,” but was originally where the Japanese Imperial Army manufactured poison gas during World War II, which was used to kill about 80,000 thousand soldiers and civilians in China.

Rabbits are believed to have been brought to the island to test the effectiveness of the poison gas, but when Allied Occupation Forces dismantled the plant they released the test rabbits onto the island.

Today, the island is home to more than 300 wild rabbits, which rabbit lovers can visit.

Palmyra Atoll outside of Hawaii was the site of a double murder.

Palmyra Atoll is located in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean. Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Palmyra Atoll has never been settled, though it is said to be the site of various shipwrecks and treasures.

Claimed by Hawaii, it became part of the US when Hawaii did. However, it was bought by a wealthy family in 1922, and used as a refuelling station by the US Navy during World War II.

It became the last privately-owned US territory in 1959, when Hawaii became a state, but featured few people after WWII, save for scientists who would stay there every now and then for temporary research. It now belongs to the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit group.

However, due to its many shipwrecks and the fact that it was the site of a possible double murder, Palmyra Atoll is often said to be cursed.

North Brother Island in New York City is said to be haunted by the hospital patients that were once mistreated there.

The now abandoned quarantine facility on North Brother Island in New York. Dave Mosher/Business Insider

While North Brother Island is now a protected bird sanctuary, it was once the site of a quarantine facility opened by Riverside Hospital for smallpox patients in 1885. It then expanded to house other communicable diseases, and became the place where typhoid fever’s patient zero, “Typhoid Mary” Mallon, was quarantined until her death in 1936, after allegedly infecting at least 25 people from 1910 to 1915.

When the hospital closed in 1942, the buildings on the island were used for veteran’s housing, and then as a rehab centre for drug addicts. But eventually the facility closed down in 1963.

The buildings still stand on the island, and are said to be haunted by all those who were mistreated there, so it’s probably for the best that people aren’t allowed here.

Check out Business Insider’s creepy and unsettling photo tour of North Brother Island.