January 28, 2024 at 12:37 pm

Here’s Why It’s Illegal To Visit New York’s U-Thant Island

by Trisha Leigh

When you think of New York, its barrier islands might not be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, it’s not known for its warm, sandy beaches.

There is tons of waterfront real estate, however, and it remains fairly coveted to this day.

That said, New York’s smallest barrier island, U-Thant Island (or Belmont Island), is as lonely as ever.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This tiny spit of land sits between Manhattan and Queens, and only exists because of an attempt at a tunnel under the East River.

William Steinway (of the piano) started the tunnel in the 1890s. It was completed by August Belmont Jr in the early 1900s. It was named after him at the time and was known as Belmont Island.

In 1977, the landfill was rented and renamed by a Buddhist group, the “Peace Meditation At The United Nations.” It was renamed in honor of Secretary-General U Thant of the United Nations, who had died three years prior.

Source: Library Of Congress

They built a “living shrine” on the property. It consisted of a “oneness arch” with some of U Thant’s statements about peace and spirituality buried beneath it.

Now, no one is allowed to visit, but it doesn’t have (much) to do with security – it’s all about the birds.

Specifically, the island is a vital habitat for some protected species that use the land for nesting and a place to rest.

If you’ve been to NYC, you know that remote and barren land is hard to come by.

One species that uses the island is the cormorant; the species is protected and New York has made a massive effort to increase their population.

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Rupeshsarkar

Around the island you’ll find fisherman catching bass and bluefish, but the Recognized Ecological Complex of U Thant Island remains free of human trampling.

Pretty wild, don’t you think, how a tiny bit of landfill became a necessary nesting spot for birds on their trips around the globe?

Maybe get out your binoculars the next time you’re in the city and check it out for yourself.