When it comes to the question of ‘are islands countries?’ it might seem like there’s a yes or no answer – but as with many things on our planet and within politics and travel, there is a lot more to it than that. That’s what this article aims to find out; are islands countries, and if they’re not… what exactly are they?
What is an island?
First things first, before we get into ‘are islands countries?’, it is important to know what an island *is* in the first place. Essentially an island is a body of land entirely surrounded by water that is smaller than a continent – it is a geographical feature found all over the world. Very small islands, found in rivers or lakes, may be known as an ait or eyot; other small islands which lie just off a coastline are sometimes called a holm. Regardless, they are still islands, it is just that there are other names for some depending on their size.
There are six categories of island:
- Continental – once connected to a continent.
- Tidal – still connected to a mainland, but the land which connects the two is often covered by the tide.
- Barrier – separated from the shore by a lagoon or sound.
- Oceanic – these are formed by the eruption of volcanoes on the ocean floor.
- Coral – these tiny islands are formed by creatures known as coral.
- Artificial – made by people for agriculture or development.
What is a country?
And, in the question of ‘are islands countries?’, it makes sense to also define what a country is. There are a couple of different definitions, which you can see below, but generally a country is a defined space making up a nation which has its own government.
The Montevideo Convention’s definition of a country is an area which meets four criteria. These are:
- A permanent population
- A defined territory
- Capacity to enter into relations with other states
The ‘declarative theory of statehood’ also follows these criteria, but the ‘constitutive theory of statehood’ says a country is a country if and only if it is recognised as sovereign by other countries – which actually opens up the possibility for there to be more countries than we typically think there are.
Another definition, from World Data, is that ‘a country is a spatially clearly delimited area, in which its own administration with at least partial autonomy comes to bear, which emanates from an organization exercising power’.
For political reasons, not all countries recognise other states as actually being countries. An example of this is that Taiwan themselves claim to be a country, but China says that Taiwan is just another part of China – as allies, the USA therefore also doesn’t recognise Taiwan as a country. It’s a complex situation with a tense history, and something which is replicated in various other situations across the globe with different countries. This is why it’s definitely not as simple as just asking ‘are islands countries?’ because there is so much more that goes into whether something is a country or not.
Are islands countries?
As mentioned, there is no yes or no answer to the questions of ‘are islands countries?’. In short – some islands are countries, and some are not. There are islands which are just one country, islands which are made up of a couple of countries, and islands which belong to other sovereign nations.
Singular islands which *are* countries
There are certain singular islands which are, in themselves, one singular sovereign country. Below is a list, alongside some further information…
- Barbados: an island of 430 km2 with a population of roughly 287,000 in the Caribbean Sea. It was established as a country in 1966.
- Dominica: an island of 754 km2 with a population of around 71,800. Located in the Caribbean Sea, it was established as a country in 1978.
- Iceland: an island of 102,775 km2 with a population of approximately 361,300 in the Atlantic Ocean. It was recognised as a fully sovereign state in 1918.
- Madagascar: an island of 587,041 km2 with a population of 26,970,000. Located in the Indian Ocean, it was established in 1960.
- Nauru: an island of just 21 km2 with a small population of 12,500. It is found in the Pacific Ocean and was established as a country in 1968.
- Saint Lucia: an island of 616 km2 with a population of 182,800 in the Caribbean Sea. It was established in 1979.
Below is a second list, of singular island countries which are not sovereign states themselves. Instead they are dependencies or territories of other countries; geographically they are a country, but politically they do not have that same level of independence. In this case, are islands countries? Yes!
- Aruba: an island of 180 km2 with a population of 107,630 located in the Caribbean Sea. It is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
- Anguilla: an island of 91 km2 with a population of only around 15,400. Located in the Caribbean Sea, it is a British Overseas Territory.
- Christmas Island: an island of 135 km2 with a tiny population of around 1.5k – found in the Indian Ocean, it is an Australian territory.
- Curaçao: an island of 444 km2 with a population of 145,800. Found in the Caribbean Sea, it is another constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
- Easter Island: an island of 163.6 km2 with a population of just over 6000. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it is a Chilean territory.
- Guadeloupe: an island of 1628 km2 with a population of 400K+. This is a French territory in the Caribbean Sea.
- Guam: an island of 544 km2 with a population of almost 160,000. In the Pacific Ocean, this is a US island territory.
- Isle of Man & Jersey: islands of 572 km2 and 116 km2 respectively, they are both British territories with populations under 100K. The Isle of Man is in the Irish Sea, whereas Jersey is in the English Channel.
- Martinique: an island of 1,128 km2 with a population of almost 404,000. This is a French territory in the Caribbean Sea.
- Montserrat: an island of 102 km2 with a small population of around 5,000. Found in the Caribbean Sea, this is another British Overseas Territory.
- Mayotte: an island of 374 km2 with a population of nearly 200,000. It is located in the Indian Ocean and is another French territory.
- New Caledonia: an island of 18,275 km2 with a population of around 260,160 in the Pacific Ocean. This is a French territory too.
- Norfolk Island: an island of 36 km2 with a population of just over 2,000. This is an Australian territory in the Pacific Ocean.
- Réunion: an island of 2512 km2 with a population of 893,500 in the Indian Ocean. This is another French territory.
- Saint Barthélemy: an island of 21 km2 with a population of less than 7.5K, which is a French territory in the Caribbean Sea.
So those are all the singular islands which are sovereign or geographic countries. In answer to the question ‘are islands countries’, in the above cases it’s a YES. There are also countries, such as Greenland, which fall under the label ‘one main island with archipelagos’ – as well as countries like Guernsey, which are ‘three main islands’. Saint Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha are ‘three main islands, distant from each other’. So the whole thing, as you can tell, is quite complex. There are so many islands, which are countries or part of countries, that it would be pointless to list them all in this one blog post.
There are also island nations which are called archipelagos. This is when there are a number of islands making up one country. These are sometimes known as a chain, cluster, or collection of islands. When examining the idea of ‘are islands countries?’ we need to think about archipelagos too. I’ll list some below – some you will have definitely heard of, some you may be unfamiliar with, and some you might not realise are archipelagos at all…
- The Bahamas
- Cape Verde
- Malta (two main islands, Malta and Gozo, with a few other smaller islands)
- Marshall Islands
- The Federated States of Micronesia
- New Zealand (two main islands, North and South, and several smaller islands)
- The Philippines
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- United Kingdom (one main island, part of a second island, as well as several smaller surrounding islands)
There are also several ‘associated states’ and dependencies/territories which are classed as archipelagos, such as the Cook Island, the British Virgin Islands, French Polynesia, the Faroe Islands, Svalbard and more.
When it comes to an archipelago, the archipelago as a whole might be classed as a country (either geographically or politically) but each individual island itself is not a country. So in this case, the answer to the question ‘are islands countries?’ would be no…
There are actually several islands which are still unclaimed. You can read more about them here (and how to claim one of them for yourself, if that takes your fancy…) but essentially there are these floating patches of land which are somewhat forgotten about. Giant rocks off the Scottish coast, snowy spots in West Antarctica, tiny tropical paradises in Belize – there’s more of them than you think, and these islands are *definitely* not countries. In some cases, nobody even knows which country they belong to!
What about Australia?
Australia is a funny one. Entirely surrounded by water, by some definition it is an island which is also a country. But because Australia is actually a continent, it cannot be an island because the definition of island including being *smaller* than a continent. So Australia isn’t actually an island after all… It might perhaps get away with being called an archipelago, because ‘Australia’ also includes the island of Tasmania alongside several other smaller islands – but it’s a tough and long-debated one.
Interesting island facts
Now that you have an answer to the question ‘are islands countries?’, let’s look at some interesting island facts – you never know when they might come in handy…
- Greenland is the largest island on the planet. You won’t actually see it in the lists above, because it falls into a somewhat separate category – an island which also has archipelagos, rather than being an archipelago.
- Australia, which is the world’s smallest continent, is three times bigger than Greenland.
- Sweden has the most islands of any country globally, with over 200,000! It is not an island itself, with parts of the country being bordered by Norway and Finland, but its coastal area has plenty of tiny islands.
- Islands which are countries or make up archipelagos are generally either continental or oceanic islands.
- There is a phenomenon called ‘island gigantism’ – this is where, with the lack of predators or competitors, some animals on islands grow to be much bigger than they would elsewhere. One of the most famous examples is the giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands which can weigh up to 551 pounds today!
- Global warming and climate change are an issue for many islands; rising sea temperatures are bleaching and damaging coral islands, while the Maldives in particular are being impacted by the rise in sea level.
- So-called desert islands often do not have desert-like climates. They get their name because they are deserted, and most are actually very tropical due to being surrounded by water as islands are…
- The most famous example of a man made or artificial island is the Palm Islands in Dubai, which are three coastal islands created by Nakheel Properties.
Are islands countries? To conclude
So when it comes to the question of ‘are islands countries?’ it isn’t cut and dry. Some islands are countries, and some countries are islands. But many islands are just parts of countries, while some are unclaimed or deserted. If you enjoyed reading about islands, countries and the link between the two, you might enjoy these articles too…