Off the coast of Brazil sits Ilha de Queimada Grande, or as it’s known in colloquial English, Snake Island. Comprising roughly 110 acres of trees, the island is uninhabited and travel to it is expressly forbidden by the Brazilian navy. Why? Because Queimada Grande is home to hundreds of thousands of golden lanceheads, the snake pictured above.
Unique to Queimada Grande, the golden lancehead typically grows to be about two feet long but at times can grow to nearly double that length. And its venom is poisonous. Very, very poisonous.
Generally, lanceheads are responsible for 90% of snake bite-related fatalities in Brazil. The mortality rate from a lancehead bite is 7% if the wound goes untreated — and as high as 3% even if treatment is given. The venom causes a grab bag of symptoms which includes kidney failure, necrosis of muscular tissue, brain hemorrhaging, and intestinal bleeding. Scary stuff, to be sure.
For Snake Island, the picture is even scarier. The data above does not include bites from the golden lancehead, as there are no official records of a golden lancehead-caused fatality due to the de facto quarantine on the Brazilian island. A chemical analysis of golden lancehead venom suggests that the snake is much more dangerous than its continental cousins: Golden lancehead venom is faster acting and more powerful — perhaps five times more powerful.
Two foot-long snakes with such powerful venom, combined, means that getting close to one carries with it a high risk of death. And getting close to one is all but certain on Snake Island. Even the most conservative estimate suggests that the golden lancehead population density on Queimada Grande is one per square meter; others suggest a population as high as five per square meter. Regardless, as one site points out, even at the lower estimate, “you’re never more than three feet away from death.”
Imagine cruising around the South Pacific and encountering a beach in the middle of nowhere (really!), surrounded entirely by ocean. Upon further exploration, the beach isn’t sand — it’s made of pumice, volcanic stones floating on the water. And where there are volcanic stones, there’s a volcano. In this case, the volcano is under the water’s surface, about to erupt and, in doing so, create an island.
If you’re Fredrik Fransson of Australia, there’s no need to imagine. In August 2006, it actually happened. And while Fransson probably thought he was watching an island form anew, he wasn’t quite right. The island was forming again. This land mass, known as the Home Reef, is an “ephemeral island” — one which forms, erodes, and re-forms (and erodes again) over the course of years.
Situated closer to Tonga than anything else recognizable — and it’s still a few hundred miles from Tonga — the island was first formed by an 1852 submarine volcanic eruption. The island eroded away over the years only to re-form again in 1984 after another eruption. Home Reef again disappeared soon after — and, in 2006, re-emerged. It’s obviously not inhabitable — beyond being temporary, it’s made of lightweight rafts of pumice. But it’s not entirely unappealing: NASA suggests that Home Reef (and other pumice raft islands) may be used by marine life as migratory stop-overs.
Or, at least, once-in-a-lifetime sightseeing opportunities for lucky folk like Fransson.