Commander Island, Russia

  In 1741, explorer Vitus Bering commandeered a Russian expedition that reached the shores of southeast Alaska. Short on supplies and his crew sick with scurvy, Bering headed back west toward the Kamchatka Peninsula — only to be blown off course and land on an uninhabited island where he eventually perished. That island (now Bering Island) turned out to be the largest of the four Commander Islands, so named in the explorer’s honor. This wildly harsh archipelago — blanketed in mountain tundra and motley-grass meadows, with a long coastline and extensive wetlands — has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its unique and abundant flora and fauna including 37 species of mammals, 215 bird species, 216 fish species, and more than 400 species of rare plants. Eleven species of whales — including killer and fin — feed in the frigid, nutrient-rich waters, as do large populations of sea lions and Northern fur seals. Nikolskoye, the only settlement in the Commanders, is a small Aleut village on Bering Island, which is also home to its namesake’s grave site.