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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Yucatán’s phantom island and the conspiracy theory behind its disappearance

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Bermeja was an islet historically depicted on maps and nautical charts as lying northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Bermeja Island supposedly existed off the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. 

It appeared on maps from the 16th century until the mid-20th century. 

While the island has yet to be spotted since at least the mid-20th century, the logs of several ships have attested to its existence in the past.

The small group of islands of islets known as El Triangulo in the Gulf of México is to the south of the supposed location of Bermeja. Photo: Google Maps

Though it is true that so-called phantom islands are often cartographical errors that get replicated time and time again, there is good reason to believe this was not the case with Bermeja. 

It could be that the island sank below sea level due to erosion and rising sea levels.

But other more conspiratorial theories suggest the island was sunk by explosives dropped by CIA aircraft.

Part of the reasoning behind this theory is that the disappearance of Bermeja Island is the timing. This is because widespread reporting on its vanishing coincided with bilateral negotiations between the United States and México in 2008 over the extent of each nation’s territorial waters. 

Earlier: Cozumel’s tourist side can’t compare with the far side

Mexico is one of the world’s largest oil producers, but its production has declined in recent years. Photo: Courtesy

In 2009, the Mexican government officially removed Bermeja Island from its maritime charts, acknowledging that it could not confirm its existence.

If Bermeja Island actually existed, it would have extended Mexico’s maritime sovereignty, allowing the country to claim fishing and oil rights further into the Gulf than ever before. 

“During this time, the Mexican government searched extensively for the island but came up with nothing, which halted much of its leverage at the negotiation table,” said a geographer, Israel Baxin Martínez.

There are quite a few small islands off the coast of Yucatán, but aside from a handful, most are extremely small and far off from the coast. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

If the existence of Bermeja had been proven, it would have been the northernmost Mexican island in the gulf and allowed the country to exploit the area, which is believed to hold roughly 22.5 billion barrels of oil.

Some suggest that high-ranking officials in the Mexican government were in on the destruction of the island but said nothing by instruction of then-President Felipe Calderon. 

Calderón has never been charged with any crimes. But Genaro García Luna, the president’s former secretary of public security, was convicted in the United States earlier this year on charges of drug trafficking and corruption.

A satellite image shows the location of Bermeja Island, where it has been recorded for centuries. Photo: Google Maps
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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