On an Island Far, Far Away

Want to get away from it all? Yeah, me too. And I know just the place. The most remote uninhabited island in the world–Bouvet Island. It’s in the South Atlantic. Here’s a google map of its location.

Notice that the scale in the bottom left corner is 500 km. That’s a  lot of kilometres of pure surrounding ocean. In fact, Bouvet Island is over 2000 kms from South Africa and a little under 2000 kms from Antarctica, the nearest land. If you’re on Bouvet island, the closest person to you is most likely on the Space Station. Unless some southern sailors happen to be passing by. But that’s unlikely. It’s not exactly on any shipping routes. Here’s a wider shot.

Bouvet Island is part of Norway. It has been since a Norwegian crew landed on it in 1927. Their claim to the land was originally disputed by the British (who else?), the latter claiming the sailor George Norris made contact with the island almost a century earlier. But that guy was maybe crazy and also reported landing on a second island nearby, which later turned out to be a phantom island. Also, his coordinates were off. So the island went to Norway. Here are some Norwegians staking their claim.

1 December 1927

Although most of Bouvet Island is glacier-covered, there’s still plenty of room for all your typical southern wildlife. You’ve got your penguins, your seals, your albatross and petrel. Not much going on in the way of vegetation, though. Some algae, some fungi.

The island isn’t technically in the Southern Ocean, but it’s pretty close. Sort of. So it reminds me of this recent episode of Ideas, “The Godforsaken Sea,” all about the Southern Ocean. The episode features this quote: “Below 40 south there is no law; below 50 there is no God.” Bouvet Island lies at 54° south —  far enough south to escape God’s reach, but still not far enough south to be in the Southern Ocean proper, which is generally regarded to begin at the 60th parallel (though there’s no perfect agreement as to this boundary).

Here’s a water colour painting of the island by F. Winter. The painting is from the late 19th century. A German expedition, led by Carl Chun, spotted the island in 1898. But that ship was unable to land at the time. I like this painting. I find it both calming and intimidating. Like death.