These Islands Used To Hold Life. Now Look At Their Abandoned Remains

What do you picture when you think of an island? Perhaps you imagine a tropical beach packed with tourists, or the white buildings that dot Greece’s shores. Some islands looked like that long ago, but they have since become abandoned. Their old buildings are empty shells that residents of the mainland never see.

Some of these islands harbor dark secrets. Others became deserted because the pub on the island was far too loud! Check out these haunting photos of abandoned islands, and learn why all of their inhabitants left.

Deception Island, Antarctica

A man walks down Deception Island in Antarctica.
Sharpshooters /VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Deception Island lies in the South Shetlands Islands archipelago in Antarctica. For years, explorers considered it to be the safest island on the continent. Explorers, whalers, and fur-sealing hunters used the island as their supply base. But not everyone knew that there was an active volcano there threatening to erupt at any moment.

During the 1960s, several countries sought Deception Island for oil mining. But the volcano erupted in both 1967 and 1969, destroying all bases and equipment. Today, the island is only visited by the occasional research base and tourist boat.

Gunkanjima In Nagasaki, Japan

A man fishes from Hashima Island.
Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

Gunkanjima, which means “Battleship Island,” was once the most densely populated island in the world. Also called Hashima Island, the area was sought-after for its coal mining. When the Mitsubishi Corporation bought the island in 1890, they began building apartments there around 1916.

Families rapidly moved to Gunkanjima for work opportunities. At one point, there were 5,259 people per 16 acres. But as petroleum replaced coal in the 1960s, facilities began to close. The residents left, leaving behind shells of concrete apartment blocks. Today, the island sits abandoned, and tourists can visit part of it.

Poveglia Island In Venice, Italy

A bed frame remains in one of the dormitories in the psychiatric ward of the abandoned Hospital of Poveglia.
Marco Secchi/Getty Images
Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

Resting between Venice and Lido, Poveglia is one of the most notorious islands in Italy. It was first occupied in 421, and throughout the 1300s it became a quarantine for those with the bubonic plague. If people were discovered with the disease, they were sent to Poveglia to die.

In the late 1800s, Poveglia served another purpose: as a mental institution. The asylum was poorly constructed, and rumors leaked about a doctor who threw a patient off of the bell tower. The island was finally closed in 1975. Today, Poveglia is off-limits to everyone except for those with special permission.

Disney’s Discovery Island In Florida, U.S.A.

A Youtuber explores the abandoned buildings of Disney's Discovery Island.

If you look closely at the official map of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, you’ll see an unlabeled green mass. This was once Disney’s Discovery Island, which mysteriously closed in 1999. The island served as a pirate-themed break from the hustle and bustle of the park. It featured exotic birds that guests could handle.

Near the turn of the century, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park opened in Orlando. Disney’s Discovery Island was subsequently shut down. Since then, the island has remained untouched and off-limits. But a few YouTubers have gotten in to explore the decade-old ruins.

Brentford Ait In London, England

View from Kew Bridge shows north bank of the River Thames with Brentford Ait in the center, 1964.
Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images
Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brentford Ait is an island in the River Thames. It used to house several trade buildings, including a notorious pub called Three Swans. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the pub would reportedly get so loud that neighbors could hear it on both sides of the river.

By 1812, resident Robert Hunter had had enough. He bought Brentford Ait, closed Three Swans Pubs, and even demolished the house and fishing pond. In the 1920s, people planted trees on the island to conceal its buildings. If you were to see Brentford Ait from London, you would only see trees.

McNab’s Island In Nova Scotia, Canada

An abandoned military defense fort is seen on McNab's Island, Canada.
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Pinterest/Ellen at

As its name implies, McNab’s Island is owned by the McNabs and was abandoned by them. Peter McNab settled on this Canadian island in the 1780s, and his descendants remained there until 1934. During World War II, the military built forts on the island that still remain today.

McNab’s Island has remained empty for decades. However, buildings such as a cholera quarantine area, soda factory, and family cemetery still lay there today. Even the old lighthouse remains on the coast. Today, tourists may visit McNab’s and visit some heritage sites.

Suakin Island In Suakin, Sudan

Ruined ottoman coral buildings sit on Suakin Island in the Red Sea.
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Getty Images

Suakin Island had been a bustling port city and hub for over 3,000 years. First developed during the tenth century B.C.E., Suakin Island acted as a trade outlet for the Red Sea. In later years, the island became an outlet for Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca. But one business became its wrongdoing: the slave trade.

During the 19th century, Suakin Island became a slave trade hub. As the slave trade declined in the 1920s, so too did the island. The area was forgotten for decades. In December 2018, Turkey bought the island for a tourist destination, so its fate is up in the air.

Holland Island In Maryland, U.S.A.

The last house on Holland Island collapses from erosion.
ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post via Getty Images
ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Holland Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland is rapidly eroding. The last house has already disappeared into the sea, and the rest is soon to follow. In the 1600s, the first settlers arrived at the island, and Holland became the most popular Chesapeake island by 1910.

In 1914, however, disaster struck. The wind and tide eroded the land where houses stood. Attempts to build stone walls did not succeed. Hence, most people took their belongings and left. In 2010, the only remaining house on Holland Island (built in 1889) collapsed. The rest is soon to follow.

Spinalonga In Crete, Greece

Spinalonga, an abandoned leper colony in Crete island, is seen from the sea.
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Near Crete lies the lesser-known Greek island, Spinalonga. Those who learned about Spinalonga may remember it for its dark history. In the 16th century, the island was first ruled by the Venetians until it was taken over by the Cretes in 1878. By the next century, Spinalonga became a leper colony.

As a smaller leper colony, Spinalonga was under-staffed. According to reports, only one doctor stayed on the island at one time. It closed down in 1957 as one of the last leper colonies remaining. Today, Spinalonga is referenced in pop culture, such as Victoria Hislop’s book The Island.

Inishmurray In County Sligo, Ireland

Monastic stone ruins are seen at Inishmurray ruins

If you were to travel four miles off the course of Donegal Bay, you would see the empty homes and schoolhouses of Inishmurray. This Irish island has a long history of sixth-century monasteries, Viking invasions of the 800s, and abandoned family belongings.

While Inishmurray has gone through many changes, the island received a 100-person population by the 1880s. However, the residents soon favored the mainland over the isolated island. By 1948, Inishmurray was empty. If you decide to visit, you’ll see ancient church ruins and empty homes.

King Island In Nome, Alaska

Stilt Village sits on the cliff side of King Island, Alaska.

For almost half of a century, King Island on the Western coast of Alaska has remained abandoned. It was initially inhabited by over 200 Inupiat people who called themselves Aseuluk, or “people of the sea.” They built an incredible town along the cliffside called Stilt Village.

During the mid-1900s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs forcefully relocated the Aseuluk to mainland Alaska. By 1970, King Island was left abandoned. The National Science Foundation funded a project to return the Aseuluk to the island in 2005. The results have yet to be reported.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island In South Andaman, India

Nature reclaims abandoned structures at Ross Island in India.

Two miles from Port Blair, India is an island that was reclaimed by nature. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island was first settled in 1789, where it was originally named after its surveyor, Daniel Ross. The area was owned by the British and remained that way for almost 200 years.

In 1941, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose experienced an earthquake. Although no one left, there was a struggle as the Freedom Fighters aimed to retake the island. Afterward, no one stayed. The Japanese took the island in 1942, and the Allies reclaimed it in 1945 but then deserted it.

North Brother Island In New York, U.S.A.

An abandoned hospital is seen at North Brother Island in New York.

North Brother Island hosts one of the darkest histories in New York. The island remained empty until 1885 when it was bought to build the Riverside Hospital. There, doctors quarantined patients with tuberculosis, yellow fever, typhus, and smallpox. The most well-known resident was “Typhoid Mary” Mallon, the first documented carrier of typhoid fever in the U.S.

In 1905, the General Slocum steamship caught fire. Over one thousand people on North Brother Island died. By 1963, the hospital closed, and the island became abandoned. It’s no wonder why North Brother Island is considered haunted.

Ōkunoshima Island In Takehara, Japan

Rabbits forage for food on the beach at Okunoshima Island.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Ōkunoshima Island has remained abandoned since World War II. Only three families lived on the island until 1925 when the Imperial Japanese Army used the site for chemical weapon testing. Researchers produced mustard gas and tear gas for the war there. Today, its only inhabitants are incredibly friendly bunnies.

When the Japanese armed forces were testing their weapons, they used rabbits for their studies. After the war ended, the Allies debated either burning, dumping, or burying Ōkunoshima, but they were told to stay quiet about the experiments. They released all the test rabbits onto the island, where they still live today. Tourists can visit Ōkunoshima to feed the bunnies.

St. Kilda In North Uist, Scotland

Soay sheep, now feral, graze by an abandoned home on the St. Kilda archipelago.
Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

St. Kilda is an archipelago, and its biggest island is Hirta. Historians are unclear when St. Kilda was first inhabited, the earliest written records go back to the Late Middle Ages. It became known as a puffin and seabird breeding site, but residents left en masse in 1930.

There are several reasons why St. Kilda was evacuated. An influenza outbreak and crop failures occurred at the same time. Tourism and military occupation ruined the natives’ routines, making them more susceptible to the harsh weather. Today, St. Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a few functional buildings and several ruins.

Antipodes Islands, New Zealand

This photo shows the cliff sides of the Antipodes Islands.

The Antipodes Islands have never been occupied for long. They was first charted in 1800, and during the latter half of the century, all attempts to live there failed. People tried to establish cattle ranges on the islands, to no avail. In 1893, the Spirit of the Dawn crashed there, and the crew barely survived.

The Antipodes Islands are considered uninhabitable. The harsh winds, little food, and freezing climate make it a less-than-ideal place to live. However, the islands serve as an Important Bird Area for hosting half the world’s population of erect-crested penguins.

Palmyra Atoll In Hawaii, U.S.A.

A person walks through the empty landscape of Palmyra Atoll, located in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean.
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Palmyra Atoll is part of the Hawaiian Islands, although the nearest land to it is 3,355 miles away. Despite being owned by the U.S., the island is uninhabited. Since the 18th century, sailors have visited Palmyra Atoll to explore and hunt for treasure.

In the 20th century, the U.S. Navy took over Palmyra Atoll. They built airstrips and docks during World War II before they abandoned the island. In the ’80s, the island was in the news for a double-murder that occurred there, which became the basis for the 1991 true crime novel And the Sea Will Tell.

Clipperton Island, Mexico

Overview of the Clipperton Island is seen in the eastern Pacific.
Xavier DESMIER /Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Xavier DESMIER /Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Travel 670 miles from Mexico, and you’ll find Clipperton Island. However, nobody will be there waiting for you. In the 1700s, Spanish explorers discovered Clipperton before the French quickly overtook it. By the early 20th century, Britain and Mexico occupied the island to build a mining settlement.

However, the settlers struggled on Clipperton. Scurvy broke out, and residents violently fought each other for control of the island. By the end of World War II, no one lived on Clipperton. Occasionally, scientists will visit the island, but otherwise, it is forgotten.

Tree Island In Hainan, Peoples’ Republic Of China

An aerial of Tree Island is seen in the South China Sea.
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images
DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

Tree Island is a historic location in the South China Sea. In the 15th century, fishermen visited the island for their daily catch. Evidence indicates that people lived there, since homes and temples still stand today. Little information on the island’s history is readily available, though.

Tree Island is currently open to the public, with an ancient temple from the Ming Dynasty and beach volleyball courts. However, its ownership is currently disputed, as Vietnam and Taiwan claim some ownership rights as well.

Lazzaretto Nuovo In Venice, Italy

An aerial view shows the Italian island Lazzaretto Nuovo.
Pinterest/Atlas Obscura
Pinterest/Atlas Obscura

If you were to enter Venice’s lagoon on a boat, you’d steer by Lazzaretto Nuovo. The island housed monks and monasteries starting in the 15th century. Around this time, it became a “contumacy” or quarantine for ships arriving in the Mediterranean. They wanted to protect Italy from the plague.

During Napoleon’s reign, Lazzaretto Nuovo became a base for the Italian Army. In 1975, the Army finally abandoned the site. Today, tourists can visit the island and the single museum that stands there. But no permanent residents live there.