This list briefly introduces you to the ten largest islands in the world.
According to the meanings, we can consider Australia’s island and its 7,692 million km ² as the largest island globally or as a continent in its own right. There is no established consensus on this issue. Australia alone represents almost 90% of Oceania.
According to article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an island is:
“Natural expanse of land surrounded by water which remains uncovered at high tide.”
Islands often hold endemic biodiversity, which is now threatened by economic development.
A word of advice: open Google Earth while reading to find the islands!
Greenland is so large that one could classify it, like Australia, in the islands as in that of continents. It covers an area of 2,130 million km², which is four times the size of mainland France. However, most of its territory is covered with ice.
Greenland is a territory belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark but which enjoys broad autonomy. It is the least densely populated “country” in the world. Only 55,000 inhabitants live on this island or 0.03 inhabitants per km².
Its capital, Nuuk, is populated by approximately 18,000 inhabitants.
Populations have colonized this land from northern Europe for nearly a thousand years. From this land, expeditions to America were carried out long before the voyage of Christopher Columbus.
New Guinea is also a territorial titan which extends over 785,753 km² east of the Insulinde, which remains superior to France and its overseas territories, which cover “only” 643,801. km². It is the largest island in the southern hemisphere.
The island has been known to Europeans since the 16th century. Over the centuries, the Dutch integrated the west of the island into their colony in the Dutch East Indies. The east of the island was first divided between the British south and a German north until Germany lost this colony after WWI.
Today, the island is divided between a West Indonesian and an East occupied by Papua New Guinea, independent since 1975. The entire island has about 10 million inhabitants.
Many indigenous peoples still inhabit the island.
Covered with tropical forests but threatened by deforestation, New Guinea is still poorly understood.
The island of Borneo, located in Southeast Asia, covers 743,330 km², an area similar to New Guinea. It is occupied by three states: Brunei (small sultanate of 5,765 km²) and Malaysia (states of Sabah and Sarawak) to the north, and Indonesia to the south (Kalimantan), which occupies nearly 75% of the island’s territory.
Twenty million people live in Borneo.
Borneo has a vibrant natural heritage. Indeed, its forests hold 6% of the world’s biodiversity. However, the nature of this island is threatened by deforestation. Forests are cleared (in the wild) to develop palm oil and rubber crops or access mineral sources. Easier access to the most inaccessible areas also threatens certain animal species that poachers can hunt for trade.
Only 8% of the forest remains in Sabah state and 3% in Sarawak state.
Madagascar has an area of 587,041 km², which is slightly larger than that of mainland France. The island, located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Mozambique, is populated by around 25 million people. The island’s ecological situation, the sanctuary of rich endemic biodiversity (of which the Lemurs are the symbol) is worrying, because of deforestation and overfishing.
The entire island is occupied by the Republic of Madagascar, an independent state from France, since June 1960. Madagascar is, therefore, the most extensive “island state” in our ranking. Formerly the Kingdom of Madagascar, the island came under the French protectorate from 1883.
Although close to Africa, the Malagasy speak an Austronesian language, a family whose majority are located in Southeast Asia. Malagasy culture is therefore situated at the crossroads of African, Indian, and Southeast Asian influences.
Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, is populated by around 1.4 million people.
Baffin Island may be the first unknown island in this ranking!
Extending over 507,451 km², Baffin is Canada’s largest island. It belongs to the territory of Nunavut. The Arctic Circle crosses it: we can therefore experience popular nights (when the Sun does not rise) and polar days (when the Sun does not set).
Covered with mountains, ice, and tundra, the island’s environment is not very hospitable. It is only accessible by plane.
Only 11,000 people populate Baffin Island, the majority of whom live in the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit.
Its native population is Inuit. In search of the Northwest Passage, the English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew were the first Europeans.
Indonesia entirely occupies the 473,481 km² of the island of Sumatra.
Unlike the previous islands, Sumatra is very crowded: there are around 50 of Indonesia’s 261 million inhabitants. However, it is not the most populous island of the archipelago: the island of Java has nearly 140 million inhabitants.
The largest city on the island is Medan, populated by around 4 million people.
Its tropical forests are home to 201 species of mammals and 580 species of birds, rare plants, tigers, orangutans, elephants, and rhinos. But, like Borneo, this heritage is threatened by commercial and wild deforestation. Between 65 and 80% of the island’s forest has already disappeared, to make room in particular for oil palm crops.
Honshu is much smaller than its congeners above: its area is 225,800 km². However, it is the most populous island in this ranking: it has around 90 million inhabitants! It is the second-most populous island in the world after the island of Java, Indonesia. Its density is approximately 387/km².
Indeed, Honshu is the largest of Japan’s four islands. There is the Japanese megalopolis (Taiheiyō Belt), accumulations of cities 1200 km long, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, north of Kyushu. Tokyo’s urban area, the capital of Japan, is the largest in the world: it has 38 million inhabitants. Honshu also has other famous cities in Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya.
In 2011, the island was hit hard by an earthquake followed by a tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A mountain range, the Japanese Alps, crosses the island from north to south. Mount Fuji and Lake Biwa are also found on Honshu.
Victoria Island is our second Canadian island in the ranking. Its surface area is 217,291 km². Two Canadian territories share this island, the Northwest Territories Nunavut.
Smaller than its big sister, it is also much less populated: there are only 1900 souls. Its climate is not very hospitable. It is located entirely in the Arctic Circle. Caribou and musk oxen are much more numerous there.
It was, of course, named in honor of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom, from 1837 to 1901.
Great Britain is 209,331 km² large. It has 60 million inhabitants.
The term “Great Britain” is often used to refer to a country, the United Kingdom, by metonymy. However, the UK spans several islands, most notably Ireland.
Great Britain is occupied by three constituent nations of the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, and Wales.
The largest city in Great Britain is London, the capital of the United Kingdom. The population of the London metropolis is approximately 11 million.
Ellesmere Island, the third and last Canadian island in the ranking, covers 196,235 km². Ellesmere is therefore almost as big as Great Britain.
But the comparison ends here. The island has only about 150 inhabitants, mostly Inuit displaced in this territory by the Canadian government for questions of land claim against Denmark, located in neighboring Greenland. Like Victoria Island, it lies entirely in the Arctic Circle. It records average temperatures of between 1 ° C in summer and -33 ° C in winter.
This polar desert is made even less hospitable by the Arctic Cordillera, which crosses it, and whose highest point is Mount Barbeau.
In 2011, two adventurers, Erik Boomer and Jon Turk circumnavigated the island by kayak.
Both Ellesmere Island and Victoria Island see their ice sheets shrink year after year due to global warming.