French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier first spotted this tiny subantarctic island in 1739, but no landing was attempted. Sailor George Norris spotted it again in 1825, claiming it for the British Crown and naming it Liverpool Island. But it wasn’t until 1927 when a successful landing was finally made by Norwegian explorer Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, who claimed it as a Norwegian dependency in 1930.
The island was renamed Bouvetøya in tribute to its French discoverer, and was later confirmed to be the most remote island in the world. Located approximately 1,600 miles south-southwest of the coast of South Africa, the freezing, wind-battered landmass is actually the ice-filled crater of an ancient, inactive volcano. Yet despite the harsh conditions and isolated location, thousands of seabirds, seals, and penguins call it home.
Bouvetøya and its territorial waters were officially declared a nature reserve in 1971. There are no permanent settlements on the island, only an unmanned weather station and a small research base built in 2014 to house scientists for 2-4 months at a time. In 2012 a team of climbers from the Expédition pour le Futur were the first people to reach the highest point on the island, leaving behind a time capsule to be opened in 2062.
In the sea between the island and the Prince Edward Islands, an American satellite detected two bright flashes of light, characteristic of a nuclear weapons test. But no evidence of an explosion was detected, despite flyovers by U.S. Air Force Boeing WC-135s designed to detect radioactive dust. Theories about the flashes include a meteor impact, a South African-Israeli nuclear test, and a glitch caused by the ageing satellite hardware.
Bouvetøya has its own website domain extension, even though no humans inhabit the island and likely never will. Despite attempts by Dutch domain registry SIDN to use the extension, ‘BV’ being the most common form of limited company in the Netherlands, the Norwegian government has a strict policy of not commercialising its domains. The extension was delegated to Norway by IANA in 1997, but remains unused to this day.
Landing on the island has been a dangerous challenge for explorers for centuries. High seas, a steep coast, and pack ice in winter make reaching the shore a risky venture, forcing most contemporary visitors to travel by helicopter. While this does make life difficult for the many scientists and researchers who work on the island, it also ensures it’s one of the few, precious places in the world left largely unspoiled by humans.