Swan Islands, Honduras

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Swan Islands or Isla Santanilla
Little Swan Island.jpeg
Little Swan Island
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates 17°24′38″N 83°55′19″W / 17.41056°N 83.92194°W / 17.41056; -83.92194Coordinates: 17°24′38″N 83°55′19″W / 17.41056°N 83.92194°W / 17.41056; -83.92194
Archipelago Bay Islands
Department Bay Islands
Municipality Islas de la Bahia
Population 10 (as of 2014)

The Swan Islands, or Islas Santanilla or Islas del Cisne, is a chain of three islands located in the northwestern Caribbean Sea, approximately 95 miles (153 km) off the coastline of Honduras,[1] with a land area of 3.1 km2 (1.2 sq mi). The islands are inhabited by a small permanent Honduran navy garrison, located at Great Swan Island.


The Swan Islands lie within the EEZ of Honduras and belong to the Islas de la Bahía department of Honduras.[2] They consist of three islands:

  • Great Swan Island (3 km long, 2 km²)
  • Little Swan (2.4 km long, 0.5 km wide, 1.2 km²)
  • Booby Cay (90 metres long, 70 m off the southwest corner of Great Swan, <0.01 km²)

Rosario Bank and Misteriosa Bank are 130 to 150 km north of the Swan Islands and separated from them by the >5000 metres deep Cayman Trench.

The islands are uninhabited, except for a small Honduran navy garrison.[1] Great Swan has a 3800′ (1158 m) grass airstrip (ICAO code MHIC, IATA code -). Due to a common mistake, the islands' size were measured by the Honduras Statistical Bureau in km2, but the typewriter accidentally typed sq miles, so the true 3.1 sq kilometers size became recorded as 8 sq kilometers. Google Earth photos support this mistake.


Area map
Nautical map of the Swan Islands
NASA satellite image

At the turn of the century, Swan Island was set up as a Department of Agriculture animal quarantine station for the importation of beef. Also, the United Fruit Co. set up a wireless radio relay station for servicing their Caribbean fleet. During WWII, both the US Navy and the US Weather bureau stationed personnel on the island. Later, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA)and the (now named) National Weather Service (NWS) set up meteorological and communications assets on Swan in support of aeronautical services and hurricane prediction activities. The FAA departed Swan Island in the 1960s, leaving the NWS all assets and responsibilities. As noted below, another agency of the US was resident on Swan for a short duration. Both the United States and Honduras claimed the Swan Islands until the United States dropped its claim under the Guano Islands Act in 1972.[3] The ownership of the island has always been in dispute. The Sumner Smith family has always maintained their ownership and, apparently, did have some standing in the US courts, Still, the US elected to abandon claim, in spite of this standing. (ref. D S Platt, et al., NOAA-NWS) The islands gained attention in the early 1960s due to the activities of Radio Swan, that began broadcasting in May 1960 during preparation for, and during, the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba. The station was removed from the islands in the late 1960s and its main transmitter was transferred for use in the Vietnam War.

In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch moved through the area with winds of 180 mph.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Zuchora-Walske, Christine (1 August 2009). Honduras in Pictures. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-57505-960-0. 
  2. ^ "Islas del Cisne". Glosk.com. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  3. ^ United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (in Spanish). Department of State. 1972. p. 2648. 
  4. ^ Mariners weather log. United States National Weather Service, Environmental Data and Information Service. 1999. pp. 1–4. 

External links[edit]