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Tristan da Cunha

The World's Most Remote Island

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Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha

Brian Gratwicke/Flickr
Located about midway between Cape Town, South Africa and Buenos Aires, Argentina lies what is often referred to as the world's most remote inhabited island - Tristan da Cunha. Tristan da Cunha is the primary island of the Tristan da Cunha island group, consisting of six islands at approximately 37°15' South, 12°30' West. That's about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) west of South Africa in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The other five islands in the Tristan da Cunha group are uninhabited, save for a manned meteorological station on the southernmost island of Gough. In addition to Gough, located 230 miles SSE of Tristan da Cunha, the chain includes Inaccessible at 20 miles (32 km) WSW, Nightingale 12 miles (19 km) SE, and Middle and Stoltenhoff islands - both just off the coast of Nightingale. The total area for all six islands amounts to a mere 52 mi2 (135 km2). The Tristan da Cunha islands are administered as part of the United Kingdom's colony of Saint Helena (1180 miles or 1900 km to the north of Tristan da Cunha).

The circular island of Tristan da Cunha is approximately 6 miles (10 km) wide with a total area of 38 mi2 (98 km2) and a coastline of 21 miles. The island group lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and was created by volcanic activity. Queen Mary's Peak (6760 feet or 2060 meters) on Tristan da Cunha is an active volcano that last erupted in 1961, causing the evacuation of Tristan da Cunha's residents.

Today, just under 300 people call Tristan da Cunha home. They live in the settlement known as Edinburgh that lies on the flat plain on the north side of the island. The settlement was named in honor of Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, upon his visit to the island in 1867.

Tristan da Cunha was named for Portuguese sailor Tristao da Cunha who discovered the islands in 1506 and although he was unable to land (the island of Tristan da Cunha is surrounded by 1000-2000 foot/300-600 meter cliffs), he named the islands after himself.

The first inhabitant of Tristan da Cunha was American Jonathan Lambert of Salem, Massachusetts who arrived in 1810 and renamed the islands the Islands of Refreshment. Unfortunately, Lambert drowned in 1812.

In 1816 the United Kingdom claimed and began to settle the islands. A handful of people were joined by the occasional shipwreck survivor over the next few decades and in 1856 the island's population was 71. However, the next year starvation caused many to flee leaving a population of 28 on Tristan da Cunha.

The island's population fluctuated and eventually rose to 268 before the island was evacuated during the eruption of 1961. The evacuees went to England where some died due to the harsh winters and some women married British men. In 1963, almost all of the evacuees returned since the island was safe. However, having tasted the life of the United Kingdom, 35 left Tristan da Cunha for Europe in 1966.

Since the 1960s, the population swelled to 296 in 1987. The 296 English-speaking residents of Tristan da Cunha share a mere seven surnames - most of the families have a history of being on the island since the early years of settlement.

Today, Tristan da Cunha includes a school, hospital, post office, museum, and a crayfish canning factory. The issuance of postage stamps is a major source of revenue for the island. The self-supporting residents fish, raise livestock, make handicrafts, and grow potatoes. The island is visited annually by RMS St. Helena and more regularly by fishing vessels. There is no airport or landing field on the island.

Species not found anywhere else in the world inhabit the island chain. Queen Mary's Peak is shrouded by clouds most of the year and snow covers its peak in the winter. The island receives an average of 66 inches (1.67 meters) of rain each year.

 

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