The world's largest island is Greenland, with an area of about 822,700 sq mi / 2,130,800 sq km. Largely covered by an ice-cap several thousand feet / meters thick, Greenland has a population of only about 40,000, about 1/40th of Manhattan's, though Manhattan is 37,000 times smaller.
Australia is usually considered to be a continent. For an explanation, see Continents and islands.
See also the 100 largest islands of the world.
The largest lake island is Manitoulin Island, in Lake Huron, Ontario, at 1,068 sq mi / 2,766 sq km.
See largest lake islands for the top 20 lake islands in the world.
The largest volcanic island is Iceland, at 39,702 sq mi / 102,828 sq km. It was formed by volcanic activity along the mid-Atlantic ridge, and is essentially exposed ocean floor.
Other larger islands, such as Sumatra and Honshu, have complex geologic origins, though they include some volcanic terrain.
The world's largest river island is Ilha do Bananal, a 7,720 sq mi / 20,000 sq km island formed by two channels of the Araguaia River in Tocantins State, Brazil.
Ilha de Marajo, a 15,500 sq mi / 40,100 sq km island in Para, Brazil, is mostly surrounded by channels of the Amazon and Para rivers, but also extends into the Atlantic. It is the world's largest island formed by fluvial processes.
The world's largest sand island is Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, at 642 sq mi / 1,662 sq km.
Bishop Rock, in the Isles of Scilly off southwest England, is sometimes called the world's smallest island, but this is an unwarranted claim based on an arbitrary 19th century bureaucratic classification scheme. It is impossible to determine an actual world's smallest island.
Under certain conditions, the criteria for an island—a fairly permanent piece of land surrounded by water and possessing substantial vegetation—can be met by an islet of less than 100 square feet.
The smallest independent island country is the Pacific island of Nauru, which is 8.2 sq mi / 21.3 sq km.
The largest island on another island is Pulau Samosir, in Lake Toba on Sumatra, Indonesia. Samosir is 245 sq mi / 630 sq km, and is inhabited.
There are several places where islands on islands in turn have lakes with islands – triple islands. The largest island on an island on an island is a 4 acre / 1.6 ha island in a lake on an island in a lake in south-central Victoria Island, Nunavut, Canada, at 69.7928° north, 108.2411° west.
An island in a crater lake on Volcano Island, Lake Taal, Luzon, in the Philippines, is often said to be the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island, but the one in Newfoundland is about twice as large.
The largest island created by human action is the Île René-Levasseur, a 780 sq mi / 2,020 sq km island in Manicouagan Reservoir, Quebec. The reservoir was formed by the damming of a river to flood a 210 million-year-old meteor crater, whose central uplift became the island.
The atoll with the largest land area is Kiritimati (formerly Christmas Island), in eastern Kiribati, with some 150 square miles / 388 sq km of land.
The largest atoll in total enclosed sea area is Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands, encircling a lagoon of 1,100 sq miles / 2,850 sq km.
The largest raised coral atoll is Lifou (Lifu) in the Loyalty (Loyauté) Islands of New Caledonia. With an area of 443 sq miles / 1,146 sq km, it is larger than Rennell Island (255 / 660) in the Solomons, as well as smaller islands such as Aldabra.
Tristan da Cunha, a 38 sq mi / 98 sq km volcanic island in the South Atlantic with a population of 300, is 1,320 miles / 2,120 km from the island of St. Helena, the nearest inhabited land, and 1,700 miles / 2,740 km from the nearest continent, Africa.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui / Isla de Pascua) is sometimes described as the most isolated inhabited island on Earth, but is closer to inhabited land (Pitcairn I.) than Tristan da Cunha, and closer to a continent than many islands of the central Pacific.
Orba Co, a lake in Tibet, stands at 17,090 feet / 5,209 meters above sea level, and contains several islands.
There is an island in Afrera Ye'ch'ew Hayk, a lake in northern Ethiopia that lies at 337 ft / 103 m below sea level.
The most northerly island, and the northernmost point of land in the world, is a tiny unnamed island at 83o 40' 34.8"N, off the north coast of Greenland. It was not discovered until 1996, and is north of Oodaaq Island, the previous holder of the record.
The southernmost named island is Deverall Island, a small ice-covered island in the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, at 81o 28' S, 161o 54' E.
The first islands appeared on Earth about 4.4 billion years ago, when the oceans formed. However, most islands now in existence are extremely young, the result of sea level changes and glacial retreat over the last 12,000 years or so.
The island that has existed longest is Madagascar, which separated from India perhaps 85 to 90 million years ago, after the two had split off from Antarctica about 125 million years ago.
A volcanic island erupted from the sea on June 6, 1995, at Metis Shoal near Tonga's Vava'u Group. By the following month, it was estimated to be 21 ac / 8.4 ha in area, and 178 feet / 54 meters high. Some proposed naming it Lomu Island, after a rugby player of Tongan ancestry.
However, it was thought that the island may be merely the latest incarnation of an island which has appeared near that site several times before, most recently as Lateiki Island, which existed from 1976 to 1978. The new island might survive for only a few years before eroding or subsiding beneath the waves.
Fukoto Kuokanaba, a volcanic islet in the Pacific near the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, was first reported in January, 1986, and is about 50 acres / 20 hectares in area.
Kavachi, an undersea volcano in the Solomon Islands, erupted in spring 2000, but is not known to have formed an island.
Though Finland claims to have more islands than any other country, with a stated total of 179,584, Sweden has counted 221,800.
While these counts may essentially be accurate, Canada probably has far more islands than either country, as it has immense areas of island-strewn lakes and thousands of miles of rocky coastline.
Several small countries have no islands at all.
The most extravagantly named group is the Lakshadweep islands off southwestern India, whose name translates "One Hundred Thousand Islands." In fact, there are 27.
The Thirty Thousand Islands of Georgian Bay, Ontario, probably do include several thousand islands.
The Thousand Islands of New York and Ontario number about 1,500.
Lake of the Woods, shared by Ontario, Minnesota, and Manitoba, is said to contain 14,000 islands.
One of every nine people is an islander: 700 million people live on about 9,000 inhabited islands.
The most populous island country is Indonesia, which has 235 million inhabitants scattered over a thousand or more inhabited islands.
See also the most populous island countries.
The most populous island is Java, in Indonesia, which has about 120 million inhabitants living in 48,900 sq mi / 126,700 sq km (a density of 2,250 people per sq mi / 950 per sq km).
See also the most populous islands of the world.
The world's most populous lake island is Ukerewe, in southeastern Lake Victoria, Tanzania. It is home to around 150,000 people.
Largest uninhabited island
The largest uninhabited island is Devon Island, in the Canadian Arctic, at 21,331 square miles 55,247 square kilometers.
Cocos Island off Costa Rica is often said to be the world's largest uninhabited island, but in fact there are several hundred larger islands without people.
Ap Lei Chau, off the southwest side of Hong Kong Island, is the world's most densely populated island, with 80,000 people living in 0.5 sq mi / 1.3 sq km, for a density of 160,000 per sq mi / 60,000 per sq km.
Male, in the Maldives, is the world's most densely populated unbridged island, with about 70,000 people living in 0.68 sq mi / 1.77 sq km, for a density of 103,000 per sq mi / 40,000 per sq km. With an additional 20-30,000 visitors at any one time, Male achieves densities of 130-160,000 per square mile / 50-55,000 per sq km.
Singapore is the most densely populated all-island country. With 4.0 million people (as of 1999) living in 247.6 sq mi / 641.4 sq km, it achieves densities of 16,160 per sq mi / 6,240 per sq km. However, most Singaporeans live on the main island of Singapore, which is connected to the mainland by a solid causeway, and is thus not strictly speaking an island at all.
Before it reverted to China in 1999, Macao held the density record. Occupying the tip of the island of Zhongchan Dao and two small islands, Macao's 502,000 inhabitants live in 6 sq mi / 16 sq km, for a density of 84,700 per sq mi / 31,400 per sq km. All Macao's islands are connected by bridges to the mainland.
The non-coastal island country with the highest population density is Malta, with 377,000 people living on islands with a total area of 124 sq mi / 320 sq km. This translates to a density of 3,050 per sq mi / 1,180 per sq km.
A close second is Bermuda, a British colony in the Atlantic east of the United States. With about 62,500 inhabitants in 20.6 sq mi / 53.3 sq km, the island group has a density of 3,040 per sq mi / 1,170 per sq km.
The least densely populated inhabited island is Ellesmere, in Nunavut, Canada, with 153 people on an island of 75,767 sq miles / 196,236 sq km. Each inhabitant thus has 495 sq miles / 1,283 sq km apiece.
This is 51 million times less than the density of Male, in the Maldives.
The smallest island on which one million or more people live is Manhattan, in New York City, with 1.48 million inhabitants living in 22 sq mi / 57 sq km (67,000 per sq mi / 26,000 per sq km).
There are several inhabited islands at 12,506 feet / 3,812 meters above sea level, in Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia.
There are inhabited islands off the coast of Azerbaijan at 92 feet / 28 meters below sea level, in the Caspian Sea.
Philip Conkling has apparently visited more islands than anyone else. The director of Maine's Island Institute, he has been to about 1,000 islands in that state.
Some people in the Travelers' Century Club, whose members attempt to visit as many countries as possible, have been to islands in over 100 countries.
Lawrence Durrell notes that a man named Kimon Friar claims to have lived on 46 different islands.
The world's tallest island is New Guinea, in the western Pacific, which rises 16,024 feet / 4,884 meters from sea level to the top of Puncak Jaya (Mount Djaja).
See also the world's tallest islands.
Isla Ometepe, in Lake Nicaragua, is the world's tallest lake island: Concepcion Volcano rises 5,183 feet / 1,580 meters above lake level.
The Maldives is the lowest island country. Its tallest island, Wilingili, rises only 8 feet / 2.4m above sea level. The Maldives is among the nations most concerned about potential sea level rise brought on by global climate change.
The largest island ever joined to a continent by a fixed link is Great Britain, which is now tied to Europe by the Channel Tunnel.
The largest island connected to the mainland by a bridge or causeway is Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, at 3,981 sq mi / 10,311 sq km.
The idea of building a bridge to Sumatra, the world's sixth largest island, has been broached.
The lowest point on a sea-level island is Lago Enriquillo, on Hispaniola, at some 130 feet (40 meters) below sea level.
The most common name for islands is "big island" and equivalent terms in various languages.
Divided by borders
The smallest island shared by two countries is not Saint Martin / Sint Maarten, as commonly asserted, but instead the middle island in Södra Boksjön, a lake on the Norwegian-Swedish border. It is about 0.2 acres / 0.1 hectares. St. Martin is 34 sq miles / 88 sq km.
The smallest sea island shared by two countries is Märket / Märketin, a rock islet divided between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic. It is 8 acres / 3.3 ha, and features a lighthouse.
See also islands divided by international borders.
The only island shared by three countries is Borneo, in Southeast Asia, which is split between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Cyprus is divided into Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, and two U.K. Sovereign Base Areas, but Northern Cyprus is a Turkish-supported de facto state in the north part of the island, unrecognized by the international community. The British bases are military outposts.
© 1995-2009 Joshua Calder
Contact Joshua Calder at calder.josh[at]gmail.com with questions or suggestions.
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