Rusnė Island

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Native name: Rusnės sala
Rusnės sala ir Nemunas.jpg
Rusnė from the east, between two rivers
Location Curonian Lagoon
Coordinates 55°17′50″N 21°22′40″E / 55.29722°N 21.37778°E / 55.29722; 21.37778Coordinates: 55°17′50″N 21°22′40″E / 55.29722°N 21.37778°E / 55.29722; 21.37778
Area 45 km2 (17 sq mi)
Highest elevation 1 m (3 ft)
County Klaipėda County
District Šilutė District Municipality
Eldership Rusnė Eldership
Largest settlement Rusnė (pop. 1,600)
Population 2,000 (as of 2001)
Density 43.5 /km2 (112.7 /sq mi)

Rusnė Island is an island in Nemunas Delta, Šilutė District Municipality, Lithuania. It is located between Atmata and Skirvytė, distributaries of the Neman River, and the Curonian Lagoon. At 45 or 46 square kilometers, Rusnė is often named as the largest island of Lithuania.[1][2][3]


The island’s age has been estimated at 1,100 years.[4] It was formed when the Neman River deposited its sediments before flowing into the Curonian Lagoon (see alluvial plain). Therefore, the elevation does not exceed 1.5 metres. One point in the island is 0.27 metres below sea level, which is the lowest elevation in Lithuania (an earlier measurement placed it at 1.3 metres below sea level).[5] The island is subject to frequent flooding, particularly in spring due to ice dams. Floods and regular river flow deposit new sediments increasing the area of the island.[2] Floodwaters are removed by pumping, using an extensive system of canals and polders.[6] The polder and embankment system has not always been able to contain floods such as the one in 1958.[7]

The island contains several several distributaries of the rivers Amata and Skirvytė (Pakalnė, Vorusnė, Skatulė, Rusnaitė, etc.). In addition, it has two rivulets (Naikupė and Ulmas) that are not part of the distributary system.[8] Its natural values are protected by its inclusion within Nemunas Delta Regional Park.

Human history[edit]

Recorded history includes its settlement by fishermen and subsequent Livonian Order control. Its location near the junction of the Nemunas and the Baltic Sea lent it some strategic importance as a point on trade routes and during the battles for control of Samogitia. A church in the town of Rusnė dates to 1419.[2]

The main businesses in the island are sailing, canoeing tourism, and fishing. The town of Rusnė, with 1,600 inhabitants, is the largest populated place on the island. The only bridge between the mainland and the island leads to Rusnė. The first bridge was completed in 1914 but was destroyed during World War II. The current bridge was built in 1974.[9] Rusnė Island Cultural and Information Office operates in Rusnė.

After Lithuania re-established its independence in 1990, collective farming on the island ended and individual landowners lacked the resources to use the machinery needed to clear the fields.[1] This led to the growth of vegetation that was inhospitable to migratory birds, an internationally problematic issue since the island lies within the East Atlantic Flyway. An NGO, The Lithuanian Fund for Nature, successfully spearheaded a drive to restore the meadows that had been used by various bird species. The initiative was supported by local farmers.[6]