Swan Islands

views updated

Swan Islands

The Swan Islands—Great Swan, Little Swan, and Booby Cay—are located in the Caribbean Sea approximately ninety miles from the Honduran coast. Great Swan, approximately two miles in length, is separated by a narrow, shallow canal of coral reef from Little Swan, 1.5 miles in length; Booby Cay can be reached by foot from Great Swan during low tide. Named for the seventeenth-century privateer Captain Swan, under the Honduran constitution they are known as Islas Santanilla, replacing the colonial name Santa Ana, given by Christopher Columbus who came upon the islands on St. Anne Day, on his last voyage in 1502. The Swan Islands have a small population, mostly employees of the radio and meteorological installations. The islands boast a large population of birds as well as tortoises, iguanas, fish, shrimp, and lobster.

Privateers and revolutionaries fighting for independence in South America took refuge in the islands from 1815 to 1821. In the 1860s the Pacific Guano Company mined guano deposits there and exported guano to New England farmers. At one time claimed by the United States, the islands were rented to the United Fruit Company to establish the Tropical Wireless Company; several installations were built in 1908 and 1927. By 1923, in response to U.S. operations and civilian territorial claims, Honduras also began to claim the islands. The islands became key to U.S. military and political interests; in 1960 the United States sponsored Radio Swan, a Cuban-exile-run radio station that broadcasted from Great Swan into Cuba. The Swan Islands were recognized as part of the Honduran sovereign territory by 1971.

See alsoColumbus, Christopher; Guano Industry; Honduras; United Fruit Company.


Ferro, Carlos A. 1972. El Caso de las Islas Santanilla. Tegucigalpa: Oficina de Relaciones Públicas, Presidencia de Honduras.

Swan Islands, Honduras. Donald E. Keith, Tarleton State University. Available from http://www.tarleton.edu/∼dekeith/swanislands.html.

                      Suyapa Gricelda Portillo Villeda