The original article was published in worldatlas.com
Conspiracy abounds when it comes to Mezhgorye, some call it Russia’s Area 51 but the mystery surrounding the secret town still persists. The Russian government has allegedly explained it away as either a food storage bunker, a mining operation town, or a bunker for government leaders. Whatever the purpose of the town, many consider it to be a nuclear base for Russian leaders, as the area is restricted to the general public. Another theory suggests that the town is home to people who work on the Mount Yamantau project which is supposedly a secret underground complex for the Russian elite to survive a nuclear holocaust.
Ilha de Queimada Grande (Snake Island), Brazil
The most venomous island in the world, Snake Island, as it is most commonly referred to, is teeming with golden lancehead vipers. Estimates place the snake population at somewhere between 2000-4000 snakes. There are local legends about unfortunate souls who happened upon the island or the original inhabitants (lighthouse keepers) who lived there until they were overrun and killed by the venomous vipers. The venom from the golden lancehead viper kills a human in under an hour, and even if you get treatment in time, there is still a chance of death. The Brazilian government highly restricts visits to the island and anyone who does dare to step foot on the island must be accompanied by a doctor. Scientists sometimes visit the island to study the snakes, but due to wildlife smuggling (biopirates) and habitat destruction, the golden lancehead is considered an endangered species. They are still numerous for the size of the island so it would be prudent to avoid the area and let the vipers live in peace.
Diego Garcia Island, UK
Once a part of the island nation Mauritius, the Diego Garcia atoll, part of the Chagos archipelago, became a US air force military installment and its residents were forcibly removed and settled in Mauritius, Great Britain, and the Seychelles in 1970. The remote islands are located in the Indian Ocean in the middle of Africa, India, Antarctica, and Australia. Since the late 90’s, former residents of the island sued for the right to return home, but the case has been disputed back and forth for the past 30 years with no firm resolution. Even though the International Court of Justice ruled that the decolonization of the archipelago was unlawful, the US and UK military continue to use the island as a military base and the islands have not been returned to Mauritius. Operations were deployed from Diego Garcia Island frequently during the Persian War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. Only authorized personnel are allowed on the island.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
Formed by a volcanic eruption in 1963, Surtsey Island off the southern coast of Iceland is one of the newer landmasses on earth. The island was formed over 3 ½ years to an overall height of 560 feet above sea level but since then, erosion has reduced the size of the island to 505 feet above sea level. You can’t visit the island unless you are an Icelandic or American scientist, this is because they do not want tourists and human activity to interfere with the development of the land. The island is of particular interest to ecologists, geologists, and biologists as it represents an rare opportunity to study how life will present itself on a new land mass. Surtur, the God of Fire from Icelandic mythology, is the inspiration for the name Surtsey Island.
Lascaux Caves, France
Upon their original discovery in 1940, the Lascaux caves became a top attraction for France and the surrounding area. The Stone Age artwork is among the best preserved examples of art and life from the Paleolithic era and is invaluable to the history of mankind. When scientists discovered that the interaction of the space with tourists, caused by an increase in humidity, carbon dioxide, and heat, were deteriorating the quality of the rock paintings and causing the growth of algae, the site was closed. Since 1963 people are not allowed to enter the caves but restoration efforts continue as fungi still grows within the caves. There is a replica of the caves nearby that tourists may enter.
Niihau Island, Hawaii, USA
Known as Hawaii’s Forbidden island, Niihau is privately owned by the reclusive Sinclair/Robinson family that has occupied the island for over 150 years. The island is within sighting distance of Kauai, but no one is allowed to go there. Since the purchase of the island only the proprietary family and the original inhabitants of the island are allowed to stay there. Apparently, King Kamehameha V, who sold the land to the Sinclair (now the Robinson) family, made them promise they would preserve the Niihau language and way of life. Today there are approximately 70 residents on the island and they live in much the same way as their ancestors would have. The islanders are permitted to leave the island as they please, to travel, to do errands in Kauai or to work but access to Niihau for outsiders is extremely restricted.
Area 51, Nevada, USA
Located near Rachel, Nevada, Area 51 is entrenched in alien lore. The mystery surrounding this highly classified Air Force site stems from conspiracy theories that name the site as the holding area for evidence of alien life, including UFOs and alien body parts. Being an active training base, the public are not allowed to enter Area 51. In fact, on September 10, 2019, 2 Dutch men were arrested and tried for trespassing when they disregarded the “No Trespassing” signs in an attempt to get a closer look at the facility.
Mount Weather, Virginia, USA
A top secret government bunker for the highest ranking officials of the US government located on Mt. Weather, Virginia. This facility exists as an apocalyptic readiness center where the US government can continue its operations if ever there was a national disaster. The site was originally owned by the National Weather Bureau in the late 1800’s. The geology of the mountain is ideally suited to build underground bunkers but between WWII and the Cold War nothing was made of the site. During the Cold War, however, threats of nuclear war were at an all time high, the government began construction on the tunnel system as a shelter in case of an attack on Washington, D.C.
North Sentinel Island, India
From ships run aground to escaped prisoners to misguided missionaries; the Sentilese who inhabit North Sentinel Island do not tolerate outsiders visiting their home. They are considered to be one of the last “uncontacted” tribes in the world and the Indian government has left them that way. The Sentilese have little problem defending their land with spears, knives, and bow and arrow, to keep people away. In November of 2018, a Christian Missionary, John Allen Chau, was killed and buried on North Sentinel Island when he trespassed on their island. Reports from the fishermen who brought him to the island say he was chased away twice before they shot him with arrows and buried his body. As a wholly unvaccinated society, any contact with outsiders could lead to devastating consequences for the entire population, as they carry no immunity towards diseases that would inevitably be transmitted to them. There are estimates of how many people actually live on the island, from 80-150, but there could be more and very little is known about their culture. Through minimal reports and contact, there is some information about what their houses look like (lean-to), what they eat, how they procure food (hunting, fishing, gathering). Their language is unknown to the world as is what they actually call themselves and their island. What is indisputable, is that trespassers are not tolerated and it is illegal to approach the island.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Like something out of a James Bond film, the Global Seed Vault entrance juts out of the snow crusted mountain side on an island in Norway’s Arctic Circle. Svalbard is an archipelago in Northern Norway that in addition to being a fictionalized location in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, is home to a doomsday vault. The vault is full of seeds from around the world, in fact there are around 930,000 different food crop seeds stored within. The Seed Vault is managed by Crop Trust who deposits seeds from locations around the world so that we do not completely lose our biodiversity. The vault is not necessarily preserving food crop seeds for a global apocalypse but also for places that are too unstable to preserve their own biodiversity, for instance Syria. While the need for the vault is unsettling, the fact that it is there is quite reassuring.