In this article I share pictures and comment on islands in the South China Sea (between China, Vietnam, Brunei, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan).
I use Google Maps to identify the islands and share screen-shot photos. Google cites TerraMetrics for providing the imagery. Thank you to both companies. I use this source as it is public and available to anyone with a browser.
To find islands you need patience and a sharp eye. There are many islands within a few miles of a country’s shoreline, with established histories. Those are less interesting. I seek islands far from the mainland, and especially those that are being newly constructed. Imagine creating and owning your own island! This is a real estate broker’s dream.
Western Paracel Islands
So, what does a new island look like? It starts as a reef, usually pretty large, with ships and sand. This one is in the Paracel Islands, at 9:30 o’clock if you zoom out at the Paracel islands grouping. It is one of 5 islands we found in a small cluster close to Da Nang (Vietnam) and Sanya (China).
As they further develop as sandy islands, there is always the question of what to build on them. In this case, we see a tight cluster of buildings that look administrative in nature, and a very large shed. Not really a leisure location.
As we zoom out, we see 9 islands we have saved in the Paracel Islands. Just Southwest of this one we see another with many boats. A bustling hub of activity based on the boats.
Just Northwest of the island with many boats we see a sandy beach.
We notice the exceptionally straight roads on Pattle island, two vertical ones and one horizontal the length of the island. This one looks agrarian and restful.
Moving along the clock towards 8 o’clock, we see another few islands. This one has a basketball court.
And just East of that island we see another with what look like administrative buildings and another large shed. Not much room here for sports or leisure, but we expect the views are nice.
A little further East and we see an island with sporting facilities and a beautiful inlet surrounded by a multi-spot helipad, and significant construction underway (or maybe that is just the lighting).
Northern Paracel Islands
Starting from the East, we see a beautiful, rural island with what looks like a few houses or farms, and a running path around the island. I see a little development on the Southwest of the island, connected by a road to the deep water entry to the island. A picture of tranquility above the trees.
This one I call ‘Airport Island’ due to the exceptionally long runway and aviation facilities, and new construction of industrial looking facilities. We can even see a twin-engine plane sitting outside the airport building. We think the residents would enjoy the running track / athletic field, basketball and tennis courts. So much construction on this island, probably good jobs available for those in the building trades. Using imperfect measurements, this looks to us like a 10,000 ft runway. Perfect for your weekend get-away!
At we zoom into this island, we see two very fast airplanes parked at the North end of runway 23.
Just to the North, right around 12 o’clock, we see what looks like a residential island laid out as a suburban neighborhood.
Also, the last island we found in the area looks like a beautiful island with some early construction, a beautiful inlet to sail your ship, one helipad, and a beautiful green field.
Dongsha Atoll National Park
The Dongsha Atoll National Park appears to be an idyllic place to sail around and enjoy nature. As we look a little closer, we see a few buildings set in nature, connected by lazy paths, and plenty of room to tie up your ship if you come for a visit. A ~5,000 foot runway is available for visitors and naturalists.
The Spratly Islands
The Spratly Islands are in a different neighborhood altogether. They are between the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. They come fairly close to the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei, so we wonder if these developments are targeted towards those populations.
Going to start with the newest island I found. Lots of ships and activity…and a runway being built and extended. This is to the West of the Spratly Islands. We see a significant number of buildings, many multi-story. Significant construction on the island, but the core buildings look mature and substantial. We counted over a dozen ships working in the area.
One building stands out…the one with the yellow star.
I learned something today. These are the shapes you can use to hold the sand and build the island. I have seen them before, but never laid out this clearly.
A little to the East we find a busy, sandy island with significant construction and ship activity. So busy! We see almost no organic growth…just sand and buildings…along with professionally laid out roads. We do see a running track, basketball courts, and tennis courts. Good for exercising.
I cannot help but notice the significant number of buildings, trailers, and the construction activity underway. These buildings look surprisingly corporate and office-like, with room and preparations for more nearby. Great ocean views from the office are hard to find…but plentiful on this new, sandy island.
When we step back for a moment, we marvel at the beautiful runway on this island. Runway (05–23) looks to be about 10,500 feet long. With great access to shipping in the Northeast cove, and a robust airport, this island means business.
Moving counter-clockwise, we see a small pair of buildings at the end of a long seaway. Looks like an old fashioned lighthouse complex.
Continuing counter-clockwise, we see a small island with a helipad and a cluster of buildings. Seems great for research, and we see a grey ship docked…looks like a supply run.
Just North of Sin Cove Island, in the center of the Spratlys, we see an island seemingly out of place. Looks like an institution, with plenty of preparations for construction and aviation / radio support services. With one helipad, and mostly sand, it seems a bleak place to work or live.
Just Northeast of the island above, we see a pair of small islands linked with a bridge or walkway. Although the islands may not be romantic, it makes me think of a couple holding hands.
This island reminds me of a university setting. It is a little Northeast of the prior two islands.
We see another island named Gaven Reefs. Just West of Namyit Island, and in the center of the Spratly Islands, it looks like a setup out of a James Bond movie.
As we zoom in a little further, we see a large courtyard building with high walls, and a Roman-type ramp to access the wall from outside.
Pretty close to these islands are an island called Taiping Island, or Itu Aba Island. Nice buildings scattered throughout the island. We notice the long runway, aircraft parking area, and protected cove. Looks very green from above, with lots of office or research facilities (from our vantage point).
Flat island is difficult to see today. The satellite photos are washed out, but we do see some man-made shadows. We will check back later.
This one seems ideal for a university or research park. It contains one helipad, a very large protected cove, and at least 20 buildings. This one is ~10:00 in the Spratlys.
Just to the Northeast of this island we see another agrarian island. No signs of a runway, helipad or ship docks…this one looks made for farming and the easy life. We see extensive tree coverage on the island, and what looks like a straight line hiking path down the center of the island.
At about 0100 if you were looking at the Spratly Islands, you see a very agrarian and less developed island. We only see two islands and significant numbers of trees. Maybe this is a natural refuge? No visible places to land a plane or dock a ship, so maybe this is a small island get-away?
At 2000 look at the Western edge of the Spratly Islands. How could we miss this one? Looks like a corporate or administrative building / complex with rows of trees (or crops) lined up in large squares on either side. Sandy coastline and a large, deep-water inlet. We cannot help but notice the two large blue balls at the Southeastern corner, with the towering edifice between them. Impressive for their size, and I would guess, sensitivity.
With only one helipad, likely not easy for tourists to visit.
Back to the map of the Spratly Islands
Notice the red dot to the upper left of the picture. This is the first island I found, and hooked me on this hobby. It is amazing what you can find tucked away in the South China Sea, and what looks like just a few hundred miles Due west of Puerto Princesa, Philippines. This island is Southwest of Thitu Island in the Spratlys. Note the heavy construction effort, the number of ships nearby, and how sandy and barren the island looks.
It screams ‘pre-construction pricing’ to me, and I believe it will be a popular island given the size of the airport and runway complex. I wonder if the owners are up to mischief.
When I zoom in, I see significant office buildings with courtyards, and some look to be multiple stories high. I am glad to see the sports complex being built, so the residents can have their exercise too (running track and basketball courts can be seen.
The one thing that really stands out is the runway. Whereas everything else on the island looks new and in states of construction, the runway is long, a little over 5,000 feet long, and has an airplane parking area to the North. They must be expecting visitors coming in from far away. !I could imagine doing wind-sprints on the tarmac and being exhausted after just a few.
I missed something in my last photo. Two new areas of construction on this reef. Look at the southern part of this ring and they stand out.
The new formation looks a little large for a child care facility, and am excited to see how the light houses and navigational aids align nicely to the island just West, and that island also lines up to the outstretched hands from the main island just south of the runway.
Here is another island in the Spratly Islands. Looks like it has been here a long time.
This one I found on July 14, 2020. Looks like a lazy fishing village, and carries the label Palawan on Google Maps. What I remember was thinking how agrarian and peaceful the island looks and how the dirt runway dominates the island. This is one of the Northern-most islands we found in the Spratly Islands, at about 1100 if looking at the Spratlys.
A small island called Sin Cowe Island has a large, protected shipping cove with six places to tie up your pleasure yacht. This island is less developed than others, providing opportunities for commercial real estate development for the aggressive investor. Many straight barriers between sand and water keeps the waves at bay. One helipad, and upcoming construction looks planned for the Northern end of the island (notice the X’s).
The Southernmost island we found has an island resort and what looks like a well maintained runway and two aircraft parking lots. However, the defining characteristic on Google Maps is the Layang Layang Island Resort!
We zoom in a little further and see what looks like a small outpost just Northeast of the island, and a deep water channel to the West. The runway looks well maintained and ready for your flight in. To the West we see land for expansion and development…maybe a theme park?
We can make out a windmill, scuba diving dock, places to tie up your boat, and what looks like a swimming pool! One helipad and a very large building that blends in with the scenery right by the island resort. We see the marking on the runway, “Malaysia.”
At 1900 in the Spratly Islands, fairly close to the Philippines, and closer to the center than the edge of the formation, we see a large Reef with a few up and coming building projects. This area is called the Cornwallis South Reef. The first is truly new construction. A rectangle emerges from the water, and the rest is very sandy. Right next to a deep water channel, it is hard to tell what it will be. A beach resort? A corporate office? A secret lair? Call us, we know some investors…
Moving counter-clockwise along the reef, this next one is tiny…more like a pumping station than a place to live or work. Interesting lines of dots above it.
The next formation in the Cornwallis South Reef, moving counter-clockwise, has what looks like three pumping stations, or large buildings in the water. This one is also located next too a deeper water channel. Three islands connected by walkways, and two shipping docks.
This fourth and last rock in the Cornwallis South Reef looks like it is just beginning to form, and we don’t see any activity. Given the lighting, it just looks like a sandy rectangle. We will check back and let you know. If they need a broker to give ideas…we think scuba diving would be fun here.
Thank you for reading. Again, this is a personal hobby and not affiliated with any company or organization. I find it fascinating that people would create, develop, work, and live on islands in the middle of the ocean, especially when the islands look like industrial areas or cities.
This is a recently acquired hobby of using a widely available public satellite service and looking for developed or developing islands in the South China Sea. I expect there are other islands of interest in this area and will keep looking. If you find others, please send me a direct message and share the link.
By comparison, the runways at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport range from 5,341 to 13,000 ft long.