How Many Islands Are There in the World

There are over 7.8 billion people living in the world as of 2020. Over 730 million of them live on one of the 11,000 permanently inhabited islands throughout the world's oceans, lakes, and seas. These 11,000 islands come in many shapes and sizes and account for nearly every biome. Some are densely populated and well-integrated into modern society, and others are among the most remote locations on the planet, subjecting their residents to total isolation. However, these 11,000 are just a small fraction of all the islands that exist throughout the world.

An island is most conventionally defined as an isolated landmass, smaller than a continent, that is surrounded on all sides by a body of water. There is no commonly held minimum size for an island, but many believe that an island should be able to support independent vegetation and be at least large enough for a tree to take root.

It is incredibly hard to define what constitutes an island, and even more difficult to generate an accurate estimate that abides by any one definition. For example, would you consider an exposed boulder in a rushing river to be an island? What about a sandy outcropping on a beach, separated from the rest of the shore by high tide? Even with the most rigid of definitions, the world's island population is as dynamic as any organism's. With such subjectivity in definition and such dependence on the current season or tide level, it is next to impossible to calculate the total number of islands on Earth. Fortunately, we can make an educated guess by splicing together the numbers reported by independent nations as well as some more commonly known unclaimed territories.

Abiding by the most conventionally accepted definition, the country in the world with the most islands is Norway, with an estimated 239,057. Sweden comes in a close second, with 221,831 islands, and Finland is fourth with around 40,000 islands. The rocky costs of Scandinavia have formed thousands of tiny rock islands, the vast majority of which are unfit for inhabitation. Scandinavian officials also err on the generous side when tallying their islands, giving the nod to small islets and cays more often than not, so figures from this region may be a bit inflated.

On the other hand, Canada, which comes in third place with 52,455 islands, has reported that it does not include islets or cays when counting its islands. If it did, it would likely have three to four times as many islands as it currently reports and may very well hold the world's top spot. Canada, in all its vastness, is home to three of the world's ten largest islands by square mileage. These are Baffin Island (195,928), Victoria Island (83,897), and Ellesmere Island (75,767) which have a combined population of just 15,501. In a similar fashion, Canada is home to the world's largest uninhabited island, Devon Island (21,331) which is just a hair smaller than Croatia.

Surprisingly, Indonesia and the Philippines (two island nations that are often celebrated for the number of islands in their composition) both have fewer islands than the United States. That's right, the United States comes in fifth place with 18,617 islands. Alaska alone is composed of at least 2,670 named islands, possessing the most of any state, including Hawaii.

Although it hasn't one-tenth as many islands as Norway, Indonesia is the country in the world with the most inhabited islands. Over 6,000 of Indonesia's 17,508 islands are inhabited, contributing to the nation's 4th best 267 million residents. For comparison, in Norway, less than 1,000 islands are inhabited. Over half of Indonesia's population lives on the island of Java, which is home to Jakarta, the world's 8th most populous metropolitan area. Indonesia has three islands, Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi with populations greater than Norway, Sweden, and Finland combined.

As technology continues to advance, satellite footage continues to reveal previously undiscovered islands. To the extent of anyone's knowledge, if we were to total all of the islands belonging to the world's countries along with the islands belonging to Antarctica and other unclaimed territories, the world contains approximately 670,000 total islands.

Countries with the most islands:

  1. Norway (239,057)
  2. Sweden (221,831)
  3. Canada (52,455)
  4. Finland (40,000)
  5. United States (18,617)
  6. Indonesia (17,508)
  7. Australia (8,222)
  8. Philippines (7,640)
  9. Japan (6,850)
  10. Chile (5,900)