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The islet of discord: Snake Island

06 Dec, 2020
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The islet of discord: Snake Island

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Snake Island, also known as Serpent Island, is an island located in the Black Sea, near the Danube Delta. According to legend, Achilles was buried on this rocky islet.


For over forty year, it was disputed between Romania and Ukraine for the control over a large petrol and gas-rich area of the Black Sea. The island is Ukrainian, but Romania refused to legally recognise it as an island not to lose the sovereignty over the surrounding waters. The territorial limits of the continental shelf around Snake Island were finally delineated by the International Court of Justice in 2009, accepting most of the Romanian requests.

During the Cold War, a Soviet radar post was built on the isle (for naval and anti-aircraft purposes). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine inherited control over the island, but Romania consistently claimed it should be part of its territory. According to the Romanian side, in the peace treaties of 1918 and 1920 (after World War I), the island was considered part of Romania, and it was not mentioned in the 1947 border-changing treaty between Romania and the Soviet Union, after World War II.


The Ukrainian port Ust-Dunaisk is 44 km (27 miles) away from the island, which belongs to Odessa region. In Snake Island coastal waters 58 fish and 6 crab different species were recorded. Therefore, in December 1998, the island and coastal waters were declared as a State-protected area.

The island was named by the Greeks Leuke ("White Island") and by the Romans Alba, probably because of the white marble formations that can be found on the isle. According to Dionysius Periegetes, it was called Leuke, because the serpents living there were white.

The island was sacred to the Greek hero Achilles and had a temple of the hero with a statue inside and many offerings to Achilles and Patroclus. The historian Pliny the Elder wrote that the tomb of the hero was on the island. The uninhabited isle Achilleis ("of Achilles") was the major sanctuary of the hero, where "seabirds dipped their wings in water to sweep the temples clean", according to Constantine D. Kyriazis. Several temples of Thracian Apollo can be also found on the island, and there are submerged ruins.


By the end of 2022, a marine communication system station is planned to appear on Snake Island. The tender for the construction has been announced by the Marine Search and Rescue Service, Ukrainian Ministry of Transports, and the construction will take place in the village of Beloye in the Island. The expected cost of the station is UAH 68.2 million.

The Odessa Journal

The Odessa Journal

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