History of Trunk Island

Harrington Sound, often mistaken for a lake, is an inland body of water at the east end of Bermuda, which the ocean feeds into from Flatt’s inlet and through the underwater cave systems that surround it. Rumours have persisted for decades that the Sound is bottomless, but it is actually only 84 feet at its deepest point. In the middle of this body of water, you will find Trunk Island, the largest island here at seven acres across.

Harrington Sound and Trunk Island haven’t always looked this way, though. Millennia of changing conditions and rising oceans have transformed the geography of this area. The island began its existence as a cedar forested hill some 12,000 years ago, before the seas rose, filling in the lowlands to create the Harrington Sound as we know it today. As the shape of Bermuda gradually emerged from the seas, the lower lying regions turned into marsh, then into a small body of water, like a lake, until the Harrington Sound that we know today rose to fill the basin.

Given its origins, it is perhaps not surprising that the ecology of Trunk Island is particularly interesting, with native cedar trees and numerous other endemic plants. However, they have not always been so well preserved.

Following the settling of Bermuda, after the wrecking of the Sea Venture in 1609, Bermuda soon fell under the management of the Somers’ Isle Company. During this time, Trunk Island was rented out as land for tobacco farming, one Bermuda’s principal exports throughout the 17th Century. However, between clearing the land for crops and the felling of the cedar trees for lumber, a huge amount of the island’s natural habitats and ecosystems were destroyed. In the 17th Century, the first documented efforts to replant the island were noted as a condition of the land’s lease and later evidence shows that some considerable success was had. This tradition and commitment to restoration is carried on to this day.

Many of the trees originally on the island were cut down for lumber to build ships with not much thought put toward replanting them originally. With the island sadly bare, with only stumps or ‘trunks’ left behind, it is possible that this period might have inspired the island’s name.

While today, Trunk Island is a centre of learning about the natural world and Bermuda’s ecosystems, this isn’t new: for hundreds of years biologists, ecologists and historians have been visiting in order to study the ecosystems here and to gain a better understanding of the natural world.