10 Uniquely Shaped Islands

An aerial view of Fernandina Island
Photo: NASA /Wikimedia Commons

Islands are alluring for a variety of reasons. Some are attractive because of their white sand beaches, while others stand out due to their palm-fringed tropical landscapes or clear, warm water. Then there are those that have earned fame because of the stories, factual and fictional, that surround them.

More recently, previously ignored islands have been noted for what they look like from the sky. It wasn’t until the era of space travel, satellites, and drones that people began discovering that a surprisingly high number of islands are shaped like well-known objects, such as hearts.

A few of these require a little imagination and the right angle to see the resemblance. But some are much more obvious. Here are 10 oddly shaped islands and the stories behind them.

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Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug Islands

Photo: Jason Thien/flickr

Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug are three islands near the coast of Kota Kinabalu, which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. All three of these landmasses are part of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Best known to Sabah locals for their protected status and idyllic landscapes, Manukan and its peers have become popular on photo sharing sites because together they resemble the two eyes and upturned mouth of a smiley face.

The face is visible on satellite images, but passengers arriving and departing from Kota Kinabalu International Airport can see the islands, too. The three are located adjacent to Gaya Island, the largest landmass in the park. Manukan, the “mouth,” has well-developed tourist facilities, including a dive center and vacation villas. The “eyes” are quieter, with Mamutik featuring picnic and swimming facilities and Sulug best known for its peaceful, undeveloped atmosphere. All these islands are only a short distance from the city.

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Isabela Island, Galapagos

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/Wikimedia Commons

The Galapagos Islands are famous for their endemic animal species, some of which inspired the now-famous works of Charles Darwin. Even among the teeming islands that make up the Galapagos, Isabela stands out. It has a large population of birds, turtles, iguanas and penguins (among other types of fauna). Dolphins and whales are commonly seen offshore.

With a population of about 2,000 people (as opposed to 12,000 on neighboring Santa Cruz), Isabela is dominated by nature. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Isabela is shaped like a marine animal. When seen on satellite images, the island resembles a seahorse. Because it is four times larger than any other island in the chain, the seahorse shape is quite distinct and unmistakable.

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Gaz Island, Brijuni Islands

Photo: Studio Hrg/Shutterstock

Brijuni consists of 14 small islands in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Istria, which is part of Croatia. One of southeastern Europe’s most interesting destinations, Brijuni features ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins and 200 ancient imprints that are thought to be dinosaur footprints. In addition to beaches and warm water, the islands' submerged archeological sites and marine life draw snorkelers and divers.

Gaz Island, one of the smallest and westernmost landmasses in Brijuni, looks like a fish when seen from above. It does not resemble any particular species, but it is shaped very much like a Goldfish Cracker.

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Molokini, Hawaii

Photo: Bossfrog/Wikimedia Commons

Despite appearing quite craggy when viewed up close, the islet of Molokini resembles a crescent moon when seen from above. The landmass near Maui is a partially submerged volcanic crater that is designated as a Marine Life Conservation District and a State Seabird Sanctuary. The “moon” rises about 160 feet above the ocean.

Molokini’s shape makes it an attraction, but not simply for Instagrammers who want to snap it from above. The crescent protects reefs and creates ideal diving and snorkeling conditions. The water inside the crescent is protected from powerful ocean currents that would otherwise make diving difficult (though experienced scuba divers can explore the outside of the crater).

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Gallo Lungo, Li Galli Islands

Photo: freevideophotoagency/Shutterstock

There are three Li Galli Islands. These small landmasses off of Italy’s famously picturesque Amalfi Coast are also known as the Sirenusas, after mythical sirens who were said to live there and seduce sailors into wrecking their boats on the rocky shores with beautiful songs.

In addition to their deadly history, the islands have a glamorous side. Private villas on Li Galli have hosted the likes of Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren and Jacqueline Kennedy. A few years before he succumbed to AIDS, dance icon Rudolf Nureyev bought and restored the villas on the islands.

The longest of Li Galli’s islands is Gallo Lungo. Sometimes described as crescent shaped, the island looks like a dolphin when seen at certain angles. A flat, wide rock formation juts out from the bottom of the island, forming the tail, while a thinner point has formed on the opposite end, mimicking the shape of a dolphin's nose.

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Chicken Island, Thailand

Photo: McKay Savage/Wikimedia Commons

Chicken Island is a little different from most of the other entries on the list because its unique shape is best appreciated at water level instead of from above. On one end of this island in Krabi Province, visitors see a towering rock formation that resembles the head and outstretched neck of a chicken.

Ferries leave from the mainland at Ao Nang, and because the island is protected as part of a national park, visitors have to pay an entrance fee in addition to the ferry fare. The chicken rock is only one of the reasons to sail from the mainland. The island is a popular site for snorkeling because of its warm water and coral reefs. It also has pristine beaches. There are no accommodations, but vendors sell food and beverages near the shore of Koh Gai.

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Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

Photo: Richard Schneider/Wikimedia Commons

The Palm Jumeirah is the first of several artificial island development projects in Dubai. This project is completed, and it indeed resembles a palm tree when seen from above. Anyone can visit the “trunk” of the palm, which is covered with malls and entertainment facilities. Private villas were built on the “branches,” and the Middle East’s first monorail connects the different areas.

The Palm is certainly impressive, but it has not been immune to controversy. According to Conde Nast Traveler, the project took years longer than expected, and the villas offer less privacy than advertised. The publication also pointed out that the dredging required to get sand for the island may have changed wave patterns, water temperature and sped up erosion in the Gulf.

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Tavarua, Fiji

Photo: Matt Enright/YouTube

From above, the tiny Fijian island of Tavarua is shaped exactly like a heart (the Valentine's Day version, not a human heart). You might think that this place would be overrun by honeymooners and couples. While some do come to Tavarua, most of the people who travel here are surfers, not romance-seekers.

There are a number of world class waves in the area. One spot, dubbed Cloudbreak, is arguably one of the world’s most famous surfing areas. It regularly hosts professional contests, including a stop on the world championship surfing tour. The popular resort on Tavarua is a for-profit enterprise, but it gives financial support to local development projects that bring services, education and infrastructure to remote parts of Fiji.

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Saint Kitts and Nevis

Photo: NASA /Wikimedia Commons

From above, the shape of Saint Kitts could be likened to several different things. It could be described as a whale or a lute. When you add round-shaped Nevis into the picture, however, the island nation appears to resemble a ball and baseball bat. Actually, since cricket is the dominant sport on the islands, a cricket bat and ball might be a more accepted comparison.

These islands have a very interesting past. Alexander Hamilton, of $10 bill fame, was born on Nevis, and Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493, accidentally naming the island because he mistook the clouds above the inland mountains for snow. (Nieve is snow in Spanish).

The island nation, whose shore areas are threatened by rising sea levels, is one of the most eco-friendly in the Caribbean. Nevis is on track to be the region’s first inhabited carbon neutral island.

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Turtle Island, Philippines

Photo: elaine ross baylon/flickr

Turtle Island, shaped like its namesake animal, is part of a larger archipelago of limestone landmasses in Pangasinan, a province on the west coast of Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) that features a variety of different-shaped islands. One is said to resemble a crocodile, while others look like mushrooms or umbrellas.

One of the most obvious shape comparisons is Turtle Island. When viewed from the right angle, it takes very little imagination to see a sea turtle floating on the top of the water. This is a popular destination thanks not only to the whimsical tree-covered limestone formations, but also because the archipelago has a lot of wildlife, swimming and snorkeling opportunities, and easily accessible caves.