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Ghost Islands: Eight of the Eeriest Abandoned Places on the Seas

In terms of abandonment, ghost towns get all the love — there are a spooky 160 of them on Atlas Obscura as of this writing. These gaping remains of human activity departed are both unnerving and often beautiful, but what about ghost islands? Around the world whole island communities have been evacuated and deserted, leaving the landmasses to nature and the atrophy of time. Here are eight of these ominous places on the water, and the details on why people left, and if you can visit the isolated ruins. 

HASHIMA ISLAND
Japan

Hashima Island (photograph by kntrty/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: 1974

Eerie Elements: Derelict, fortress-like compounds on Hashima Island once housed workers for a coal mining facility. The island was nicknamed "battleship" ("gunkanjima") for its typhoon-resilient architecture that's now crumbling like a dystopic wasteland. 

Can You Go? Yes, tours have been operating since 2009. You can also explore it digitally through the ominous Hashima Island: A Forgotten World interactive project.


Exploring Hashima Island in 2012 (photograph by Jordy Meow/Wikimedia)


Hashima Island in 2010 (photograph by Jordy Meow/Wikimedia)

Hashima Island in 2014 (photograph by Jordy Meow/Wikimedia)

Hashima Island in 2010 (photograph by Jordy Meow/Wikimedia)

POVEGLIA PLAGUE ISLAND
Italy

Poveglia Island (photograph by Angelo Meneghini/panoramio.com)

Abandoned: 1968

Eerie Elements: Poveglia served as a plague quarantine station for Venice from 1793 to 1814, and some rumors state that 50% of the soil is composed of the remains of the dead. A mental hospital was later opened, and remains in ruins in the overgrowth of ivy. It's also not the only ghost island in the Venice area, which is spotted with these abandoned relics of eras gone by. 

Can You Go? While technically off-limits, boats do offer visits circling the island, and hire the right one and maybe you can step on the unsettling shores. 

Poveglia Island in 2010 (photograph by ntenny/Flickr)

Poveglia Island in 2010 (photograph by ntenny/Flickr)

HOLLAND ISLAND
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

Holland Island in 2010 (photograph by baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

Abandoned: 1918

Eerie Elements: People lived on Holland Island from the 17th century until the 20th, but the land just keeps eroding and at high tide the island is barely visible. One creaking house from the 19th century long remained, swarmed with pelicans, but it collapsed into the water and was burned in 2010

Can You Go? Watch your tide tables closely, but try soon before the island disappears. 

Collapse of the house in 2010 (photograph by baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

HERSCHEL ISLAND
Yukon Territory, Canada

Herschel Island (photograph by Maedward/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: 1960s

Eerie Elements: Herschel Island served for decades as a 19th-century whaling station after being spotted and named by the ill-fated John Franklin in 1826. The haven for ships trapped in the ice is now totally abandoned, including its four graveyards.

Can You Go? Sure, get a sturdy kayak, and watch for ghost harpoons. 

Herschel Island in 2010 (photograph by Ansgar Walk/Wikimedia)

Herschel Island in 2010 (photograph by Ansgar Walk/Wikimedia)

ROSS ISLAND
South Andaman, India

Ross Island (photograph by Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: 1940s (mostly)

Eerie Elements: While there is some settlement now and a museum, most of the structures of Ross Island, once a British administrative center for the Indian Penal Settlement, are abandoned and covered with wild Ficus. A high mortality rate encouraged one of its first abandonments, before use in Word War II. 

Can You Go? Yes, its creepy ruins burdened with branches are a tourist destination. 

Ross Island in 2009 (photograph by Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia)

Ross Island in 2000 (photograph by IomaDI/Flickr)

HIRTA
Scotland

Hirta Island (photograph by Otter/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: 1930

Eerie Elements: Despite humans living on Hirta Island in the St. Kilda archipelago of Scotland since prehistoric times, every human was evacuated in the 1930s due to the threat of starvation and ongoing harsh weather. Now the lines of stone structures have been left to crumble. 

Can You Go? Yes, but watch out for the feral Soay sheep, an ancient, agile breed that calls the island home. 

Sheep at Hirta (photograph by Irenicrhonda/Flickr)


A Soay lamb on Hirta (via PLoS Biology)

Hirta Island in 2010 (photograph by Irenicrhonda/Flickr)

SPINALONGA
Gulf of Elounda, Crete

Spinalonga (photograph by Ggia/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: Mid-20th Century

Eerie Elements: After being carved off Crete to be a fortress, Spinalonga — sometimes called the Island of Tears — last served as a leper colony in the 20th century. 

Can You Go? While once lepers shuddered to enter the island's isolation through "Dante's Gate," now tourists are welcomed for visits with open arms, as long as they leave before the day is out. 

Spinalonga in 2011 (photograph by Deror_avi/Wikimedia)

Spinalonga in 2009 (photograph by Guérin Nicolas/Wikimedia)

NORTH BROTHER ISLAND
New York, New York

North Brother Island (photograph by reivax/Wikimedia)

Abandoned: 1960s

Eerie Elements: Mostly forgotten out in the East River in close proximity to the Bronx, North Brother Island served most infamously as a quarantine hospital, whose patients included the notorious Typhoid Mary. And what is more unnerving than hospital ruins on an island directly visible from one of the most populous cities in the world?

Can You Go? Despite some parks committee chair ideas of making North Brother Island public, it's now a bird sanctuary, although some explorers still slip into the abandoned home of the avians by boat. 

North Brother Island in 2013 (photograph by Jonathan Haeber/Flickr)

North Brother Island in 2014 (photograph by Jessica Sheridan)