A huge number of uninhabited islands dot the Earth’s oceans. Some of them are so remote that it’s impractical to reach and explore them, while others we avoid to preserve their unique plant and animal life. Some islands, though, we steer clear of for much more ominous reasons.

Gruinard Island is one of these. The isle lies about a half mile off Scotland’s northwest coast, and its rolling hills and peaceful scenery hide a frightening history…

Gruinard Island, located off the coast of Scotland, seems peaceful and quiet at first glance.


However, this patch of serene greenery has a dark, shocking past.


During World War II, British forces worried about chemical weapon attacks by the Germans, so they decided to test biological weapons of their own…


…one of which was anthrax.

anthrax8U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

In 1942, the British government bought Gruinard Island from its original owners and began making plans to test the newly weaponized disease.


Researchers’ first step was to import 80 sheep to the island.

sheep in the long grass

Then, they released spores of Vollum 14578, the most highly infectious strain of anthrax they had developed. 


In a matter of days, all the sheep were dead.


The British government realized that releasing anthrax into a German city would not only wipe out the civilian population but also make most of the surrounding area uninhabitable for decades.


They never officially took the weapon off the table, but thankfully, the U.S. intervened in the war and the British never had a reason to use it. 


After the war ended, the original owners of Gruinard Island requested that it be returned, but the government admitted that it was uninhabitable and couldn’t be handed over until there was a cleanup effort.


However, the government also decided that a full-scale decontamination effort was too dangerous and expensive to undertake.


 So, the island was quarantined and closed off to the public for good.

anthrax10Weird Island

Then, in 1981, a group of microbiologists who were fed up with the situation planned and launched Operation Dark Harvest.


Under the cover of night, the scientists stole 300 pounds worth of soil from Gruinard and threatened to leave portions of it at government buildings until something was done about the contaminated island.


Shockingly, the plan actually worked! A full-fledged decontamination effort was undertaken, and finally, on April 24, 1990 after 48 years of quarantine, Gruinard Island was declared anthrax-free.


A week later, the original owner’s family bought the island back from the government for the original sale price of £500.


Can you believe such a peaceful-looking island has such a dark, complicated history? It’s a perfect example of how looks can be deceiving…