Visualizing the World’s 100 Biggest Islands
View the full-size version of the infographic.
Visualizing 100 of the World’s Biggest Islands
View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here.
When you think of an island, the first thing that might come to mind is a small, sunny beach surrounded by warm waters. But did you know that 11% of the world’s population actually calls islands their home?
Today’s data visualization is designed by mapmaker David Garcia, and it ranks the 100 largest islands found around the world by size.
Islands in the Stream
The 100 biggest islands range from the likes of expansive Greenland to independent Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands. But look a little closer, and you’ll see just how much the top contender outshines the rest. Greenland is almost three times the size of the second-biggest island of New Guinea, and you could fit over 408 Guadalcanal islands within it.
In the visualization, the islands are also tinted, depending on the climate they come from. Blue islands are from the polar regions, turquoise islands lie in the temperate zones, and green islands represent the lush tropics. Which of these regions hosts the most islands?
|Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland)||Denmark||Europe|
|New Guinea||Papua New Guinea, Indonesia||Oceania|
|Pulau Borneo (Kalimantan)||Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei||Asia|
|Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island, Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Kitlineq (Victoria Island)||Canada||North America|
|Great Britain||United Kingdom||Europe|
|Ellesmere (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Te Waipounamu (South Island)||New Zealand||Oceania|
|Te Ika-a-maui (North Island)||New Zealand||Oceania|
|Ireland||Ireland, United Kingdom||Europe|
|Hispaniola||Dominican Republic, Haiti||North America|
|Banks Island||Canada||North America|
|Sri Lanka||Sri Lanka||Asia|
|Tatlurutit (Devon Island, Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego||Panama||South America|
|Shugliaq (Southampton)||Canada||North America|
|Axel Heiberg (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|New Britain||Papua New Guinea||Oceania|
|Prince of Wales (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Kuganajuup Qikiqtanga (Somerset, Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Bathurst (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Prince Patrick||Canada||North America|
|King William (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Yos Sudarso||Papua New Guinea||Oceania|
|Ellef Ringnes (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Bylot (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Hawai'I (Big Island)||United States||North America|
|Cape Breton||Canada||North America|
|Prince Charles||Canada||North America|
|Kodiak (Alaska)||United States||North America|
|Cyprus||Cyprus, United Kingdom||Europe|
|Bougainville||Papua New Guinea||Oceania|
|Puerto Rico||United States||North America|
|Cornwallis (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Latangai (New Ireland)||Papua New Guinea||Oceania|
|Prince of Wales (Alaska)||United States||North America|
|Desolation (Kerguelen)||Antarctic Lands, France||Antarctic|
|Isla Soledad/ East Falkland||Argentina||South America|
|Novaya Sibir (New Siberian)||Russia||Eurasia|
|Coats (Nunavut)||Canada||North America|
|Prince Edward||Canada||North America|
|Chichagof (Alaska)||United States||North America|
It’s the Island Life for Many
North America dominates with 32 islands out of the top 100, but there’s a catch — twelve of them are uninhabitable, thanks to the frigid Arctic temperatures.
Throw the number of people into the mix and the regional overview gets even more interesting. Compared to the rest of the world, Asian islands are teeming with life.
- 28 Asian islands
Total population: 510.4 million
- 14 European islands
Total population: 83.8 million
- 32 North American islands
Total population: 40.7 million
- 12 Oceania islands
Total population: 18.3 million
Taking things a step further, we’ve remixed the visualization based on population density.
Click below to view the full-size version.
The most populated island in the world, Java is filled to the brim with 141 million people — that’s over a thousand people per square kilometer. This is in part thanks to the capital city Jakarta being located on the island, but experts warn those days may be short-lived. By 2050, scientific models predict that 95% of the city may be underwater, and that Indonesia must scramble to find a new capital.
To finish, here is the 20 most dense islands on the list, in terms of population density.
|Rank by Density||Island||Countries||Population||Area (km²)||People per km²|
|#9||Puerto Rico||United States||3,195,000||9,104||350.9|
|#11||Sri Lanka||Sri Lanka||21,440,000||65,610||326.8|
|#12||Great Britain||United Kingdom||66,040,000||209,331||315.5|
|#13||Hispaniola||Dominican Republic, Haiti||21,396,000||76,192||280.8|
The Australia-Island Debate
Upon first publishing this over two years ago, the most common feedback we heard came from our friends Down Under.
In school, many Australians learned that their beloved country was an “island continent”, and naturally felt it should be included on the list of the world’s 100 biggest islands.
As with anything, there are different schools of thought on this. Upon digging deeper, we believed that Encyclopedia Britannica had a explanatory take on the issue:
“Most geographers consider islands and continents to be separate things. An island is a mass of land that is both ‘entirely surrounded by water’ and also ‘smaller than a continent.’ By that definition, Australia can’t be an island because it’s already a continent.”
There are, of course, opposing arguments that could be had—but at least this gives some perspective on why Australia was likely excluded from this particular list.
This post was first published in 2019. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.
Mapped: European Colonial Shipping Lanes (1700‒1850)
This map plots the colonial shipping lanes used by the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch in the 18th and 19th centuries.
European Colonial Shipping Lanes (1700‒1850)
Every year, thousands of ships ferry passengers and transport goods across the world’s oceans and seas.
200 years ago, the ships navigating these waters looked very different. Explorers and traders sailed from coast to coast to expand colonial empires, find personal riches, or both.
Before modern technology simplified bookkeeping, many ships kept detailed logbooks to navigate, tracking the winds, waves, and any remarkable weather. Recently, these handwritten logbooks were fully digitized into the CLIWOC database as part of a UN-funded project by the University of Madrid.
In this graphic, Adam Symington uses this database to visualize the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch shipping routes between 1700 and 1850.
Colonial Shipping Lanes
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch empires dominated global trade through their colonial shipping lanes.
All four nations sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with some frequency over that timeframe, but these fleets were also very active in the Pacific and Indian Oceans as well.
The table below reflects the record of days spent by digitized logbooks from each nation.
|Country||N. Atlantic||S. Atlantic||Indian Ocean||Pacific||All Oceans|
Does this mean that the Netherlands had the widest colonial reach at the time? Not at all, as researchers noted that there were thousands of logbooks from each country that weren’t able to be digitized, and thousands more that were lost to time. The days simply reflect the amount of data that was available to examine from each country.
But they can still give us an accurate look at critical shipping routes between European countries, their trade partners, and their colonies and territories.
Let’s now take a closer look at the colonial powers and their preferred routes.
The British shipping map shows a steady presence across the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. They utilized many of Europe’s ports for ease of trade, with strong pre-independence connections to the U.S., Canada, and India.
One of the most frequented shipping routes on the map seen is a triangular trade route that enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This route facilitated the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas, raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton from the American colonies to Europe, and arms, textiles, and wine from Europe to the colonies.
During this period, Spanish maritime trade with its colonies was an essential economic component of the Kingdom of Spain (as with other colonial empires).
We can see the largest concentration of Spanish ships around Central and South America leading up to the Spanish American wars of independence, as those colonies were especially important suppliers of raw materials such as gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, and cotton. There are some lanes visible to Pacific colonies like the Philippines.
Of the four empires, France’s maritime logbooks were the most sparse. The records that were digitized show frequent travel and trade across the North Atlantic Ocean to Canada and the Caribbean.
The French empire at the time included colonies in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and West Africa. Their trade routes were used to transport goods like sugar, coffee, rum, and spices, while also relying on the slave trade to maintain plantation economies. The French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was one of the world’s wealthiest colonies in the late 18th century.
Dutch shipping routes from the time had the most detail and breadth of any country, reflective of the Dutch East India Trading Company’s position as the world’s dominant company and trade force.
These include massive traffic to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Cape Colony (now South Africa), and the Guianas in South America.
Interestingly, researchers from Leiden University found that the Dutch empire was a “string of pearls” consisting mostly of strategic trading hubs stretched along the edges of the continents and focused on maritime power.
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