isla bermeja

The Vanishing

We lose things all the time: a sock, in the dryer, house keys, spare change. Sometimes we even lose each other, or ourselves. Sometimes we also lose whole islands.

Wait, what?

Yes, that was genuinely something that was lost one day (and no, I’m not talking about Atlantis).

Photo courtesy of leoleobobeo via Pixabay

Photo courtesy of leoleobobeo via Pixabay

Isla Bermeja was an island located off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was a small island, only about 80 square kilometres, and lay at a distance much further away from the rest of Mexico than any other piece of land the country lay claim to. Because of this, Mexico’s economic zone reached 200 nautical miles. Without the island, however, this zone was greatly reduced. This is a problem because it means the difference between who can claim the rights to specific oil reserves: Mexico, or the United States.

The Gulf of Mexico is where the Hoyos de Dona (Doughnut Hole) lies, which contains oil that Mexico and the U.S. fought for—and continue to discuss—ownership of. The existence of Isla Bermeja placed the Hoyos de Dona in Mexican territory, but when the island vanished, it took with it the treaty that legally recognized this ownership, and the U.S. claimed rights to the oil reserves.

There are a lot of things that cause fighting and shady business in this world, and oil is certainly very high on that list. So the sudden disappearance of an entire island made a much bigger mystery than it might have had it not been for the connection to oil. Don’t get me wrong, of course a whole island vanishing into the night would have piqued the interest of a large number of people. After all, Atlantis draws great fascination, and it’s just a legend. But the disappearance of Isla Bermeja was about a lot more.

Some theorize that the CIA actually had something to do with Isla Bermeja being physically booted from the world map. It’s not seen as completely out of the realm of possibility that the U.S. had it blown up in order to shrink Mexico’s economic zone enough to give the U.S. claim to the Hoyos de Dona and its oil. Naturally, however, nothing could ever be proven.

But, as with anything else that’s lost, a search—many searches, in fact—was conducted.

Photo courtesy of  Earth Chronicles

Photo courtesy of Earth Chronicles

The island was first discovered to be missing in 1997, when a fishing expedition was unable to locate it out in the water. It had been on maps ever since the early 1500s, but not continuously, as there was a period of time between 1775 and 1857 where the island was inexplicably dropped from all maps, only to reappear once again between 1857, and it’s physical disappearance in 1997.

Some of this puzzling mapwork, including and excluding the island with no apparent rhyme or reason, is why some people believe the island never actually existed at all. Significant research was done in 2009 to search for the island and prove once and for all whether or not the island ever existed, but no conclusive results were produced one way or another.

It seems most likely that the island did really exist, once. Afterall, it wasn’t just one or two maps that included it, paper towns style, but all maps for over two whole centuries combined. Nonetheless, the mystery remains. Did Isla Bermeja sink beneath the sea? Was it blown up due to greed over oil? Or did it never exist at all? It would seem that’s a secret the empty waters prefer to keep to themselves for the time being, but who knows? Maybe one day someone will figure it out.


Fun fact: if you type ‘Bermeja Island’ into google maps, it drops a pin right into the Gulf of Mexico, where Bermeja Island was supposed to be, but nothing is shown there. Just wide open water.

What are your thoughts on the disappearance of Isla Bermeja? Feel free to leave a comment with your own theories below!


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

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