Yes, islands are disappearing — most recently the five Solomon Islands lost to rising sea levels. But don't despair just yet. For every island that goes the way of the dodo bird, the Earth is busy creating new islands.
Some erupt into being through volcanic activity. Others grow from ocean sandbars. Still others reveal themselves after glaciers retreat. A few are only temporary, while some materialize and erode on a regular basis. However they're birthed and however long they last, island-building is part of the amazing mystery of our living, breathing planet.
Here are 10 of Mother Nature's newest islands formed in the past two decades (and one still in the embryonic stage).
1. Hunga Tonga
On Dec. 19, 2014, an undersea volcano called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai began erupting in the South Pacific island nation of Tonga for the second time in five years. It started with a white steam plume rising out of the ocean. Over the next few weeks, it intensified with ash plumes reaching 30,000 feet, followed by large rocks and thick ash spewing hundreds of feet into the air. By Jan. 16, 2015, a rocky new island had formed, measuring over a mile long and standing more than 300 feet above sea level. By the end of January, it had spread to join another nearby island, and the volcano crater in its center had filled with sulfurous emerald water. Two months later, visitors reported that the island was still warm to the touch and birds were already nesting on it.
2. Sholan and Jadid islands
After an explosive 25-day underwater volcanic eruption in the Red Sea in 2011, a tiny island named Sholan appeared in the Zubair Archipelago, a small chain of volcanic islands between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that currently belongs to Yemen. According to a report in Scientific American, the Red Sea is a hotbed of seismic and volcanic activity formed by a massive rift in the Earth's crust where two tectonic plates are ripping apart at almost half an inch a year. In 2013, another island named Jadid emerged nearby after a 54-day eruption. Both islands have since shrunk due to erosion from waves and the elements.
In November 2013, an underwater volcanic eruption near the island of Nishinoshima, which lies 620 miles south of Tokyo, created a nearby smaller island, initially called Niijima. By the end of the year, the tiny island had expanded and merged with Nishinoshima, which itself was formed by the same underwater volcano in the 1970s. The conjoined island — a new and bigger Nishinoshima — continued growing as lava flowed in all directions in oddly twisting lobes and tubes. As of March 2014, it was already three times its previous size and was still expanding in October 2015.
4. Zalzala Koh
A devastating magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck Pakistan's Baluchistan province on Sept. 24, 2013, leaving hundreds of people dead and tens of thousands homeless. It also gave birth to a small round island off the coast near the port city of Gwadar. According to researchers, the island is a mud volcano, formed by a methane gas emission that pushed up part of the muddy, rocky sea floor. Referred to locally as either Zalzala Koh ("Earthquake Mountain") or Zalzala Jazeera ("Earthquake Island"), the small land mass is expected to disappear quickly once the gas below cools and erosion from waves and tidal action take their toll.
5. Home Reef
Some islands are built to last, while others disappear. Then there's a third kind that seems to come and go. Home Reef, created by a submarine volcano in Tonga, is one such ephemeral island. Over the last 150 years, Home Reef has surfaced and disintegrated a few times after volcanic eruptions. The last eruption in 2006 not only created a temporary island but also sent vast rafts of floating pumice drifting to the Fiji Islands and eventually to Australia. By 2008, Home Reef was gone again. A new volcanic eruption in 2015 didn't bring back Home Reef, but there's always next time.
In 2003, researchers noticed a small sandbank growing 16 miles off the German coast in the North Sea. Within 10 years it had emerged as a full-fledged, 34-acre island, already home to 50 different plant species and several types of birds, including grey geese and peregrine falcons. The fledgling island, Norderoogsand, is unusual because most sandbanks in the shallow North Sea coastal waters fail to survive the ferocious winter storms. An article in The Telegraph warns that a superstorm could yet wipe away Norderoogsand.
7. Tugtuligssup Sarqardlerssuua
Over the past 60 years, the Steenstrup Glacier in northwest Greenland has retreated more than six miles, partly due to climate change. The melt has uncovered several new islands, the most recent in 2014, according to the American Geophysical Union. Researchers believe the island — named for the mountain called Tugtuligssup Sarqardlerssuua that sits atop it — may have helped anchor the glacier in place. Now that it's free, Steenstrup could retreat even faster, generating more islands and further transforming Greenland's coast.
As one of the most active undersea volcanoes in the Pacific, Kavachi erupts every few years. Located south of Vangunu in the Solomon Islands, it has created a temporary island at least nine times since 1939, its first recorded eruption. The last known island was formed in 2002, but it was eroded away by waves within a year. Eruptions in 2004, 2007 and 2014 failed to produce a new Kavachi island, but researchers recently made a truly extraordinary discovery. Underwater cameras showed sharks, stingrays and other unexpected sea creatures thriving in the scalding, acidic waters in and around the submerged volcano.
9. Pinto Lake mystery island
Extreme El Niño-fueled storms in California in the spring of 2016 led to a strange appearance in Pinto Lake. Call it the birth of a breakaway island. A half-acre chunk of wetland covered with trees and grasses broke off one of the banks and began zig-zagging around the 120-acre lake located near Watsonville, according to a report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Officials even dubbed the floating phenomenon "Roomba Island" because environmental experts hoped its roots would help absorb nutrients from fertilizers that cause the lake's many toxic algae blooms. For now the mysterious island seems to have wedged itself against a bank and may remain there or eventually decompose.
10. Loihi Seamount
No, it's not an island just yet. But this active underwater volcano called Loihi could become Hawaii's next chunk of terra firma in a few millennia. Loihi Seamount is located near the Big Island of Hawaii and rises some 10,000 feet from the sea floor (taller than Mount St. Helens before it erupted in 1980). Like all the Hawaiian islands, Loihi is a "hot spot" volcano, meaning it's formed by an area of high heat under the earth’s crust rather than along tectonic plate boundaries like other volcanoes. While still 3,000 below the ocean's surface, regular volcanic activity and new lava flows are slowly building up Loihi's height at a rate of about a tenth of a foot per year.
Inset photo of Home Reef: Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory/Wikimedia Commons