Have you ever wondered what the largest island on earth is? Australia might be your first guess, but it’s technically a continent. Despite being completely surrounded by water, continental landmasses are much bigger than islands. Australia is three times larger than the largest island on earth, Greenland. So what is an island, anyway? The truth is, islands are both hard to define, and they’re even harder to count. New ones keep forming, and old ones keep vanishing, drowned out by sea level rises and other factors. The largest islands in the world, however, have held their own for millennia.
Location: North America
Area: 822,700 sq miles
Population Density:0.1/sq miles
Sandwiched between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, this independent North American territory of Denmark is the largest island on earth by a large margin. Despite its verdant name, Greenland has a well-earned reputation for being inhospitable and is the least densely populated country on Earth. Glaciers and ice caps cover more than 80% of the island, and there are no roads between towns.
Location: Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Oceania
Area: 303,381 sq miles
Population Density:36/sq miles
Two nations administer the second largest island in the world: the eastern half is the country of Papua New Guinea, and the western half is part of Indonesia. New Guinea is home to the highest mountain in all of Oceania, Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid, with an altitude of 16,503 feet. The tropical island is also home to the majority of the world’s species of birds of paradise.
Location: Southeast Asia
Area: 288,869 sq miles
Population Density:55.74/sq miles
Number three is the only island on earth shared by three countries: Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Borneo is home to one of the world's oldest rainforests, which is located on the opposite side of the earth as the Amazon in Brazil. The 130 million-year-old jungle is teeming with exotic and rare wildlife, including clouded leopards, saltwater crocodiles, Dayak fruit bats, Irrawaddy dolphins, and Bornean orangutans. Indonesians call the island “Kalimantan,” which comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “burning weather island” because of its hot and humid climate.
Area: 226,917 sq miles
Population Density:85/sq miles
Not only is Madagascar the world's fourth-largest island, but it’s also the biggest island in the Indian Ocean. The African country, made famous by the Dreamworks animated film series, is brimming with unspoiled beauty and extraordinary biodiversity. Madagascar accounts for 25,000 species of animals, 70% of which are found nowhere else on earth. It also has 14,000 different kinds of plants, 90% of them completely unique to Madagascar.
Location: Canada, North America
Area: 195,928 sq miles
Population Density:0.05/sq miles
Canada’s largest island is the fifth largest island on earth. Baffin Island is located in the bitterly cold Nunavut territory of the Arctic archipelago. With an average yearly temperature of -8 degrees Celsius, it’s no surprise that hardly anyone lives here. Most residents are Inuit and live in the island’s capital, Iqaluit.
Location: Indonesia, Asia
Area: 171,069 sq miles
Population Density:275/sq miles
The Indonesian island of Sumatra, which straddles the equator, steals the number six spot. The enormous island’s jungles are teeming with rare and critically endangered wildlife, including the Sumatran rhino, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran orangutan, and the Sumatran ground cuckoo. Indonesia’s largest island is also home to one of the world’s largest and worst smelling flowers, Rafflesia arnoldii, otherwise known as the “stinking corpse lily.”
Location: Japan, Asia
Area: 87,200 sq miles
Population Density:1,158/sq miles
Honshu, the official name for Japan’s mainland, is the largest of the country’s four main islands. Though it ranks at number seven in size, it takes the top spot as both the most populated and the most densely populated island in the top ten. Nearly 38 million residents live in the megacity of Tokyo alone. All 30 of Japan’s highest mountain peaks are on Honshu including Mount Fuji, and it’s also home to the nation’s largest inland lake, Lake Biwa.
Location: Canada, North America
Area: 83,897 sq miles
Population Density:0.02/sq miles
Canada’s second largest island lies entirely within the Arctic Circle. Although it is larger than 36 of the 50 states in the US, Victoria Island has less than 2,000 inhabitants. But what the island lacks in human population, it more than makes up for with its tens of thousands of muskoxen and caribou. The northeast part of the island has an interesting geological feature: a 15-mile wide meteor crater from an impact that happened between 130 and 350 million years ago.
Location: United Kingdom, Europe
Area: 80,823 sq miles
Population Density:782/sq miles
Great Britain, which is comprised of the autonomous countries of Scotland, England, and Wales, is the largest island and the most populous region in Europe. The island is surrounded by around 1,000 of its own islands and islets. Unlike most islands, you won’t find dramatic geographical features like active volcanoes, arctic mountain ranges, or exotic jungles -- but you can find plenty of craggy coastlines, ancient castles, charming villages, double-decker buses, and roundabouts.
Location: Canada, North America
Area: 71,029 sq miles
Population Density:0.0019/sq miles
The 10th largest island on earth is another one in the Canadian Arctic Circle. Despite its notable size, only 146 people call Ellesmere Island home. The Cordillera mountain range dominates most of the isle, making it the most mountainous in the archipelago. Ellesmere Island is so inhospitable that it wasn’t successfully circumnavigated until 2011. The arduous journey took a grand total of 104 days, and the two men on the mission apparently had to stave off a “breaching 3,000-pound walrus from the cockpit of a small sea kayak.”
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