Amsterdam Island

Photo: franek2 / CC BY-SA (

The Indian Ocean is fascinating. It’s the third-largest body of water in the world. It extends from Antarctica to Asia. It touches four of the seven continents. Plus it includes thousands of islands.

It’s the islands that interest you the most. Some of them hug continents’ coasts. Others huddle together in archipelagos around the equator. From there, the islands spread out. Greatly spread out. Access becomes difficult. Populations dwindle. While the weather can be extreme.

The French Southern and Antarctic Lands definitely fall into the extreme category. The French overseas territory sits in the southern Indian Ocean. It has no permanent human residents. Most activity is limited to the summer months. Those lucky enough to visit are greatly rewarded, though.

Île Amsterdam—along with Île Saint-Paul, its neighbor to the south—is one of the most remote islands in the territory. The volcanic island lies roughly 2,000 miles from Madagascar, Australia, and Antarctica. The Spanish, the Dutch, and sealers arrived before the French claimed Amsterdam Island in 1843. It took more than 100 years for them to establish a base on it. Another research station, Martin-de-Viviès, still sits on the north coast.

About 35 scientists descend on the island each year. Their studies include birds, mammals, plants, and the atmosphere. The Falaises d’Entrecasteaux (Cliffs of Entrecasteaux) are one of their favorite spots. It’s where cliffs rise nearly 2,300 feet out of the ocean and a large colony of Indian yellow-nosed albatrosses breeds. Two types of seals—southern elephant and subantarctic fur—do, too. While rare brown skuas, Antarctic terns, and even western rockhopper penguins simply call the island home. It must be quite a sight to approach Amsterdam Island.


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