The Diomede Islands - Creating a Border

The Diomede Islands are a pair of rocky islands located in the Bering Strait between Alaska, U.S.A., and Siberia, Russia. The islands are separated by the International Date Line and an international border. The larger western island, known as Big Diomede Island (also known by Russians as Gvozdev Island) falls under Russian control, while Little Diomede belongs to Alaska, U.S.A.

In 1648 the Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev was the first person documented to reach the islands. The Diomede Islands were then re-discovered on 16 August 1728 by Vitus Bering, a Russian navigator of Danish origin. The 16th of August is the date that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the revered martyr Saint Diomede, therefore the Diomede Islands were named after this saint. The islands were recorded on a map by Mikhail Gvozdev in 1732.

On 18th October 1867, the sale of Alaska by the Russians to the United States of America was concluded. In the text of the treaty that finalized the sale the Diomede Islands are used to designate the boundary between the two nations.

Due to the International Date Line running down the four kilometre stretch of water between the two islands, you can stand on Little Diomede in Alaska and look into “tomorrow” on Big Diomede Island in Russia. Prior to 1995, Big Diomede Island was the first to enter a new year due to it being the easternmost landmass. This changed, however, when in 1995 the central Pacific Republic of Kiribati, upon acquiring the Phoenix and Line Islands from the United States, needed to adjust all the islands under their jurisdiction to have the same date. Kiribati in effect moved the date line to extend around, instead of through, its islands thereby becoming the first country to officially greet a new year.

In the summer of 1995 the British documentary presenter Michael Palin started his proposed circumnavigation of the Pacific Rim from Little Diomede Island as part of the BBC series “Full Circle”. His goal was to cross 18 different countries and end his eight month journey back on Little Diomede Island. Unfortunately, due to arriving in winter, the sea was too rough to allow him and his camera crew to land on the island. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of this island was documented. In August 1987, Lynn Cox made history by swimming across the Bering Strait from Little Diomede Island in Alaska to Big Diomede Island in the then Soviet Union – an event that served, once again, to draw the world’s attention to the remarkable Diomede Islands.


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