The Wandering Island of the Northern Atlantic

Sandbanks, currents and underwater rocks, in combination with fogs and violent storms, have caused more than 350 known shipwrecks in this part of the ocean. The island is often called “the Atlantic Graveyard”. Few wrecks are still visible, because the water here is strong enough to quickly tear apart stricken ships, which are then covered by sand.

Not far from Halifax harbor, nearly 300 kilometers away from the Canadian coast, lies SableIsland, infamous for the hundreds of ships that sank in the waters surrounding it.


Those who studied the causes behind such tragedies have discovered that SableIsland is a “wanderer”. It constantly changes its shape and location, and is impossible to accurately determine its contour. In fact, this island is a strip of sand shaped like an arc, with a length of about 42 kilometers and a maximum width of 1.5 kilometers, covered by grasses and other small plants. In 1901, the federal government planted 80.000 trees in an attempt to stabilize its soil. None survived.

Waves constantly pound the western shore, which is sinking into the water, whereas the eastern side, helped by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, constantly takes new shapes. Thus, the island “moves” eastwards at a rate of about 230 meters per year. Its “voyage” is very dangerous for sailors and, for this reason, they named it “the wandering coffin”, or, according to other sources, “the North Atlantic graveyard”. Because sand can have many colors, including blue, it is easy to see how sailors, fooled by its appearance, steered their ships willfully towards their doom. From 1766 to 1966, over the course of around two centuries, the islands traveled about 45 kilometers – a true record for an island.


Researchers have discovered the remnants of a very large number of ships that have sunk here over the years and among them, the wreck of a 400 years old ship. A Canadian statistic registered during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, therefore over the course of 150 years, no less than 515 shipwrecks. What makes it even more perilous is its shore, made up of quicksand, which forms a trap for anyone who ventures nearby.


There is a permanent population of 5 people. During summer, this number rises, with various scientists and photographers coming to SableIsland. Only two people were born there since 1920. Today, there is a permanent weather station on the island and, in 2010, a decision was taken to turn it into a national park.



Article written by Răzvan Spiridon and translated by Mihail-Andreas Mitoşeriu. 

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