Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points
Maritime transport is an essential part of international trade—approximately 80% of global merchandise is shipped via sea.
Because of its importance, commercial shipping relies on strategic trade routes to move goods efficiently. These waterways are used by thousands of vessels a year—but it’s not always smooth sailing. In fact, there are certain points along these routes that pose a risk to the whole system.
Here’s a look at the world’s most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks—also known as choke points—as identified by GIS.
What’s a Choke Point?
Choke points are strategic, narrow passages that connect two larger areas to one another. When it comes to maritime trade, these are typically straits or canals that see high volumes of traffic because of their optimal location.
Despite their convenience, these vital points pose several risks:
- Structural risks: As demonstrated in the recent Suez Canal blockage, ships can crash along the shore of a canal if the passage is too narrow, causing traffic jams that can last for days.
- Geopolitical risks: Because of their high traffic, choke points are particularly vulnerable to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political unrest.
The type and degree of risk varies, depending on location. Here’s a look at some of the biggest threats, at eight of the world’s major choke points.
Because of their high risk, alternatives for some of these key routes have been proposed in the past—for instance, in 2013 Nicaraguan Congress approved a $40 billion dollar project proposal to build a canal that was meant to rival the Panama Canal.
As of today, it has yet to materialize.
A Closer Look: Key Maritime Choke Points
Despite their vulnerabilities, these choke points remain critical waterways that facilitate international trade. Below, we dive into a few of the key areas to provide some context on just how important they are to global trade.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that provides a shortcut for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ships sailing between the east and west coasts of the U.S. save over 8,000 nautical miles by using the canal—which roughly shortens their trip by 21 days.
In 2019, 252 million long tons of goods were transported through the Panama Canal, which generated over $2.6 billion in tolls.
The Suez Canal
The Suez Canal is an Egyptian waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Without this route, ships would need to sail around Africa, which would add approximately seven days to their trips. In 2019, nearly 19,000 vessels, and 1 billion tons of cargo, traveled through the Suez Canal.
In an effort to mitigate risk, the Egyptian government embarked on a major expansion project for the canal back in 2015. But, given the recent blockage caused by a Taiwanese container ship, it’s clear that the waterway is still vulnerable to obstruction.
The Strait of Malacca
At its smallest point, the Strait of Malacca is approximately 1.5 nautical miles, making it one of the world’s narrowest choke points. Despite its size, it’s one of Asia’s most critical waterways, since it provides a critical connection between China, India, and Southeast Asia. This choke point creates a risky situation for the 130,000 or so ships that visit the Port of Singapore each year.
The area is also known to have problems with piracy—in 2019, there were 30 piracy incidents, according to private information group ReCAAP ISC.
The Strait of Hormuz
Controlled by Iran, the Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, ultimately draining into the Arabian Sea. It’s a primary vein for the world’s oil supply, transporting approximately 21 million barrels per day.
Historically, it’s also been a site of regional conflict. For instance, tankers and commercial ships were attacked in that area during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is another primary waterway for the world’s oil and natural gas. Nestled between Africa and the Middle East, the critical route connects the Mediterranean Sea (via the Suez Canal) to the Indian Ocean.
Like the Strait of Malacca, it’s well known as a high-risk area for pirate attacks. In May 2020, a UK chemical tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen–the ninth pirate attack in the area that year.
Due to the strategic nature of the region, there is a strong military presence in nearby Djibouti, including China’s first ever foreign military base.
Mapped: Corruption in Countries Around the World
Which countries are the most (and least) corrupt? This map shows corruption around the world, and the movers and shakers over the last decade.
Mapped: Corruption in Countries Around the World
How bad is public sector corruption around the world, and how do different countries compare?
No matter your system of government, the public sector plays a vital role in establishing your economic mobility and political freedoms. Measuring corruption—the abuse of power for private gain—reveals how equal a system truly is.
For more than a decade, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International has been the world’s most widely-used metric for scoring corruption. This infographic uses the 2021 CPI to visualize corruption in countries around the world, and the biggest 10-year changes.
Which Countries are Most (and Least) Corrupt?
How do you measure corruption, which includes behind-the-scenes deals, nepotism, corrupt prosecution, and bribery?
Over the last few decades, the CPI has found success doing so indirectly through perceptions.
By aggregating multiple analyses from country and business experts, the index assigns each country a score on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
Here are the results of the 2021 CPI, with the least corrupt countries at the top:
|Corruption Perception by Country||Score (2021)|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||59|
|Sao Tome and Principe||45|
|Trinidad and Tobago||41|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||35|
|Papua New Guinea||31|
|Central African Republic||24|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||19|
Ranking at the top of the index with scores of 88 are Nordic countries Denmark and Finland, as well as New Zealand.
They’ve consistently topped the CPI over the last decade, and Europe in general had 14 of the top 20 least corrupt countries. Asia also had many notable entrants, including Singapore (tied for #4), Hong Kong (#12), and Japan (tied for #18).
Comparatively, the Americas only had two countries score in the top 20 least corrupt: Canada (tied for #13) and Uruguay (tied for #18). With a score of 67, the U.S. scored at #28 just behind Bhutan, the UAE, and France.
Scoring towards the bottom of the index were many countries currently and historically going through conflict, primarily located in the Middle East and Africa. They include Afghanistan, Venezuela, Somalia, and South Sudan. The latter country finishes at the very bottom of the list, with a score of just 11.
How Corruption in Countries Has Changed (2012–2021)
Corruption is a constant and moving global problem, so it’s also important to measure which countries have had their images improved (or worsened).
By using CPI scores dating back to 2012, we can examine how country scores have changed over the last decade:
|Change in Corruption by Country||10-Year Trend (2012-2021)|
|Papua New Guinea||+6|
|Sao Tome and Principe||+3|
|Trinidad and Tobago||+2|
|United Arab Emirates||+1|
|Central African Republic||-2|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||-2|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||-3|
|United States of America||-6|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||-7|
The biggest climber with +18 was Seychelles, Africa’s smallest country and also its least corrupt with a score of 70. Other notable improvements include neighboring countries Estonia, Latvia, and Belarus, with Estonia rising into the top 15 least corrupt countries.
On the opposite side, both Australia (-12) and Canada (-10) have actually fallen out of the top 10 least corrupt countries over the last decade. They’re joined by decreases in Hungary (-12) and Syria (-13), which is now ranked as the world’s second-most corrupt country.
Which countries will rise and fall in corruption perceptions over the next 10 years, and how do your perceptions compare with this list?
How the Top Cryptocurrencies Performed in 2021
Cryptocurrencies had a breakout year in 2021, providing plenty of volatility and strong returns across crypto’s various sectors.
The Returns of Top Cryptocurrencies in 2021
2021 saw the crypto markets boom and mature, with different sectors flourishing and largely outperforming the market leader, bitcoin.
While bitcoin only managed to return 59.8% last year, the crypto sector’s total market cap grew by 187.5%, with many of the top coins offering four and even five-digit percentage returns.
2021 Crypto Market Roundup
Last year wasn’t just a breakout year for crypto in terms of returns, but also the growing infrastructure’s maturity and resulting decorrelation of individual crypto industries and coins.
Crypto’s infrastructure has developed significantly, and there are now many more onramps for people to buy altcoins that don’t require purchasing and using bitcoin in the process. As a result, many cryptocurrency prices were more dictated by the value and functionality of their protocol and applications rather than their correlation to bitcoin.
|Ethereum||Smart Contract Platform||399.2%|
|Binance Coin||Exchange Token||1,268.9%|
|Solana||Smart Contract Platform||11,177.8%|
|Cardano||Smart Contract Platform||621.3%|
|Terra||Smart Contract Platform||12,967.3%|
|Avalanche||Smart Contract Platform||3,334.8%|
|Polkadot||Smart Contract Platform||187.9%|
Sources: TradingView, Binance, Uniswap, FTX, Bittrex
Bitcoin wasn’t the only cryptocurrency that didn’t manage to reach triple-digit returns in 2021. Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash also provided meagre double-digit percentage returns, as payment-focused cryptocurrencies were largely ignored for projects with smart contract capabilities.
Other older projects like Stellar Lumens (109%) and XRP (278%) provided triple-digit returns, with Cardano (621%) being the best performer of the old guard despite not managing to ship its smart contract functionality last year.
The Rise of the Ethereum Competitors
Ethereum greatly outpaced bitcoin in 2021, returning 399.2% as the popularity boom of NFTs and creation of DeFi 2.0 protocols like Olympus (OHM) expanded possible use-cases.
But with the rise of network activity, a 50% increase in transfers in 2021, Ethereum gas fees surged. From minimums of $20 for a single transaction, to NFT mint prices starting around $40 and going into the hundreds on congested network days, crypto’s retail crowd migrated to other smart contract platforms with lower fees.
Alternative budding smart contract platforms like Solana (11,178%), Avalanche (3,335%), and Fantom (13,207%) all had 4-5 digit percentage returns, as these protocols built out their own decentralized finance ecosystems and NFT markets.
With Ethereum set to merge onto the beacon chain this year, which uses proof of stake instead of proof of work, we’ll see if 2022 brings lower gas fees and retail’s return to Ethereum if the merge is successful.
Dog Coins Meme their Way to the Top
While many new cryptocurrencies with strong functionality and unique use-cases were rewarded with strong returns, it was memes that powered the greatest returns in cryptocurrencies this past year.
Dogecoin’s surge after Elon Musk’s “adoption” saw many other dog coins follow, with SHIB benefitting the most and returning an astounding 19.85 million percent.
But ever since Dogecoin’s run from $0.07 to a high of $0.74 in Q2 of last year, the original meme coin’s price has slowly bled -77% down to $0.17 at the time of writing. After the roller coaster ride of last year, 2022 started with a positive catalyst for Dogecoin holders as Elon Musk announced DOGE can be used to purchase Tesla merchandise.
Gamifying the Crypto Industry
The intersection between crypto, games, and the metaverse became more than just a pipe dream in 2021. Axie Infinity was the first crypto native game to successfully establish a play to earn structure that combines its native token (AXS) and in-game NFTs, becoming a sensation and source of income for many in the Philippines.
Other crypto gaming projects like Defi Kingdoms are putting recognizable game interfaces on decentralized finance applications, with the decentralized exchange becoming the town’s “marketplace” and yield farms being the “gardens” where yield is harvested. This fantasy aesthetic is more than just a new coat of paint, as the project with $1.04B of total value locked is developing an underlying play-to-earn game.
Along with gamification, 2021 saw crypto native and non-crypto developers put a big emphasis on the digital worlds or metaverses users will inhabit. Facebook’s name change to Meta resulted in the two prominent metaverse projects The Sandbox (SAND) and Decentraland (MANA) surge another few hundred percent to finish off the year at 16,261% and 4,104% returns respectively.
With so many eyes on the crypto sector after the 2021’s breakout year, we’ll see how developing U.S. regulation and changing macro conditions affect cryptocurrencies in 2022.
Misc2 weeks ago
From Greek to Latin: Visualizing the Evolution of the Alphabet
Markets3 weeks ago
Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2022
Best of4 weeks ago
Our Top 21 Visualizations of 2021
Technology1 week ago
The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web
Technology3 weeks ago
Companies Gone Public in 2021: Visualizing IPO Valuations
Misc4 weeks ago
Mapped: Top Trending Searches of 2021 in Every U.S. State
Green4 weeks ago
Mapped: 30 Years of Deforestation and Forest Growth, by Country
Markets3 weeks ago
How Every Asset Class, Currency, and S&P 500 Sector Performed in 2021