The World’s Largest Islands

Quick! Think of all the big islands in the world.

Is Australia an Island? No, it’s a continent. How do we know this? It’s just a matter of definition.

Conventionally, “continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water…” The criterion “large” leads to arbitrary classification: Greenland, with a surface area of 836,330 square miles is considered the world’s largest island, while Australia, at 2,941,300 square miles is deemed a continent… (Source). 

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

So now we know that, by definition, Greenland is the world’s largest island. But even this may not be correct, in that: “If the ice disappeared, Greenland would most probably appear as an archipelago, at least until isostasy lifted the land surface above sea level once again.” (Source). But let’s not quibble over probabilities.

The next two largest islands are neighbors in the area generally bounded by the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific: New Guinea (#2) and Borneo (#3). Between them is the eleventh largest island, Sulawesi.

The orange bubble labeled ‘A’ denotes the Island of Sulawesi, part of the nation of Indonesia. The Island of Borneo is to the left of Sulawesi, and the Island of New Guinea is to its right. The latter two islands are divided politically among two or more separate nations: Brunei , Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua-New Guinea.

The orange bubble labeled ‘A’ denotes the Island of Sulawesi, part of the nation of Indonesia. The Island of Borneo is to the left of Sulawesi, and the Island of New Guinea is to its right. The latter two islands are divided politically among two or more separate nations: Brunei , Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua-New Guinea.

  • There are approximately 180,497 islands in the world. (Source).
  • What minimum size constitutes an island? One square mile. (Source).

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of southern Africa. It has a total area of 226,660 square miles, with 224,530 square miles of land and 2,100 square miles of water. Madagascar originated as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Its west coast was formed when Africa broke off from Gondwana around 165 million years ago. Madagascar eventually broke off from India about 66 million years ago.




Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is 195,928 square miles and its population is about 11,000 (2007 estimate). Named after English explorer William Baffin, it is likely that the island was known to Pre-Columbian Norse explorers from Greenland and Iceland and may be the location of Helluland, spoken of in the Icelandic sagas (the Grœnlendinga saga and the Saga of Erik the Red). (Source).

Baffin Island, in red (Wikipeida)

Baffin Island, in red (Wikipeida)

Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia, to the west of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island that is entirely in Indonesia (two larger islands, Borneo and New Guinea, are shared between Indonesia and other countries) and the sixth largest island in the world at 182,812 square miles with a current population of almost 50 million. (Source).

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

 is the largest and most populous island of Japan.  It is the seventh largest island in the world, and the second most populous after JavaIt had a population of 103 million in 2005, mostly in the Kantō plain where 25% of the total population reside in the Greater Tokyo Area. The island’s total area is 88,016.85 square miles, 60% of the total area of Japan. It is slightly larger than Great Britain. Its area has been expanding with land reclamation and coastal uplift in the north, but global sea level rise has diminished these effects.The highest peak is the active volcano Mount Fuji at 12,388 feet, which makes it the world’s 7th highest island.


Victoria Island
 is an island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is the eighth largest island in the world, and at 83,897 square miles is Canada’s second largest island. It is slightly larger than the island of Great Britain. It contains the world’s largest island within an island within an island.


Great Britain
,also known as Britain, is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the north-western coast of continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world and the largest island in Europe. With a population of about 62 million people in mid-2010, it is the third most populous island in the world, after Java (Indonesia) and Honshū (Japan). It is surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets. The island of Ireland lies to its west. The island is part of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constituting most of its territory: most of England, Scotland and Wales are on the island of Great Britain.

Ellesmere Island
 (InuitUmingmak Nuna, meaning “land of Muskox“)is part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. It comprises an area of 75,767 square miles, making it the world’s tenth largest island and Canada’s third largest island. Vikings from the Greenland colonies reached Ellesmere Island, Skraeling Island and Ruin Island during hunting expeditions and trading with the Inuit groups. Unusual structures on Bache peninsula may be the remains of a late-period Dorset stone longhouse.

Ellesmere Island is at the Northernmost part of Canada Government of Canada: “Natural resources Canada.”

Ellesmere Island is at the Northernmost part of Canada
Government of Canada: “Natural resources Canada.”

  • Devon Island, just south of Ellesmere Island, at 21,331square miles, is the 27th largest island in the world, and the largest uninhabited island in the world. The entire planet’s population could fit on this island, at densities of the most densely populated part of Earth, Lalbagh, Dhaka as of the 2011 census figures there. (Wikipedia).

I’ve mentioned the 11th largest island, Sulawesi, so here are the rest on the list of the top 300, after which the sizes diminish more precipitously. The 300th largest island is Melchor Island, Chile, with 333 square miles.



Island’s name

Area (sq mi)



South Island


New Zealand






North Island


New Zealand










Cuba (main island)




Iceland (main island)










Republic of Ireland; Northern (Great Britain)








 Dominican Republic; Haiti






Banks Island




Sri Lanka (main island)


 Sri Lanka


Tasmania (main island)




Devon Island




Alexander Island


None (Antarctic)


Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego


Argentina; Chile


Severny Island



You might ask, “where do most of the top 300 islands reside?” Here you are:








United States
1-Long Island, New York
1-Puerto Rico










 Papua New Guinea




 Solomon Islands






 United Kingdom












 New Zealand


  • Finally, these 300 islands comprise 2.5% of the Earth’s land surface.

“Europe” is Old and Fading Away

I put “Europe” between inverted commas because it is more than a physical and political region of the world—it is a concept, a culture, an historical memory.

It also represents a people. Genetic scientists recognize three major groups of humans: Africans, Asians and Europeans. Simply put, Europeans are people found mostly in Europe and, via emigration during the last several hundred years, in the two American continents.

The Europe that is fading away is not the geographically defined region, but the people who carry the designation “European”. For evidence of this assertion, let’s look at the median age of the five regions I use for this study (please clink on this image and all others to see the charts clearly):

Median Age by Region

The median age is the age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older.

The chart shows that the regions of Africa and “Asia-I” contain the youngest populations of the world, with the three other regions containing the oldest.

Before we look at other factors and trends to support my assertion in the headline, I should explain the terminology and country groupings (regions) used in this study:

  • “Asia-I” is comprised of all the countries in Asia, except those I have put into “Asia-II”, below.
  • “Asia-II” is comprised of China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Japan and the two Koreas.
  • “Americas” are the two continents of North and South America, combined.

(See the note at the end of this article for countries and populations included and excluded from this study).

Back to the discussion.

To begin to see the import in the wide variation in median age among these regions, we need to see the mass of the people within them:

Percent Population by Region
One can say that the regions containing 75% of the world’s population have the youngest people, and the regions containing 25% of the world’s population have the oldest people.

But what are the trends? What is the population growth rate in each of these regions?

Pop Growth Rate by Region

We see here that world population is currently growing at the rate of 1.1 percent per year. One region drives this number: Africa, at 2.33% per year. If all data from Africa were taken out of the calculation (i.e., if the continent theoretically did not exist), the world growth rate would be 0.88%. This calculation puts into even greater perspective that Asia-II and Europe are lagging far behind in population growth rate.

But there is at least a little population growth in Europe (0.11% in 2012), so how can I say that Europeans are disappearing? Let’s look at net migration rates (percentage of people entering a country minus the percentage of people leaving):

net migration rate by region

Without the migrants from other regions entering Europe, its population growth rate would have been -1.13%; that is, Europe’s population would have declined by 1.13%, or by around 8.5 million people.

As the nail in the coffin, let’s look at how Europeans are replacing themselves through the making of babies; that is, to study the Total Fertility Rate by region.

[Total fertility rate (TFR—Definition from The CIA World Factbook):

… TFR is a more direct measure of the level of fertility than the crude birth rate, since it refers to births per woman… A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers. Rates above two children indicate populations growing in size and whose median age is declining… Rates below two children indicate populations decreasing in size and growing older. Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years. (Emphasis added).]

Fertility Rate by Region

Both Europe and Asia-II do not have a sufficient number of newborn, to replace the old people who are dying, in order to maintain the current population (if there were a net migration rate of 0.0%).


Both Europe and Asia-II regions have populations growing well below the world average.

Both regions have a median age in excess of the world average and well above those of Africa and Asia-I. The people residing in these regions are getting older while the rest of the world remains very much younger.

The population of Europe is remaining stable only because immigrants from other countries make up for the deficit in European fertility.

If trends continue, Europe will be peopled mostly by non-Europeans.

Why haven’t I included Asia-II in the headline? Because the population of Asia-II is 1,574 million people, while the population of Europe is 754 million people, around half as much as Asia-II.

If the trends continue as they are, Asia-II (this includes China!) will begin to fade away as well.

NOTE: There are 267 countries, dependent areas, and other “entities” in the world, as listed in The World Factbook of the CIA which is the source of all information here. I have placed 156 of these entities (almost all are countries) in the five regions described above.

Not included in these five regions are data from 107 countries and other “entities” all of which have populations under one million; nor are the data from Australia and New Zealand included. Also not included are data from two small countries: Kosovo (Europe) and South Sudan (Africa). The latter two countries are too new to have generated sufficient information. Altogether, the data not included here are from entities totaling 38.8 million people, or 0.55% of the world’s population of 7.022 billion people, in 2012.

Also, I have included Russia in Europe, as well as the Southern Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Turkey is in Asia-I.