• A visualization designed by mapmaker David Garcia maps the 100 largest islands by size.
  • Each island in the image is color-tinted to reflect its climate.
  • Greenland is the biggest island on the list.
  • Another visualization by Garcia explores the size of the same islands by population density, in which Java tops the list with 141 million people.
this diagram shows the hundred largest islands of the world
The world's largest islands.
Image: David Garcia

Visualizing 100 of the world’s biggest islands

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here.

When you think of an island, the first thing that might come to mind is a small, sunny beach surrounded by warm waters. But did you know that 11% of the world’s population actually calls islands their home?

Today’s data visualization is designed by mapmaker David Garcia, and it ranks the 100 largest islands found around the world by size.

Islands in the stream

The 100 biggest islands range from the likes of expansive Greenland to independent Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands. But look a little closer, and you’ll see just how much the top contender outshines the rest. Greenland is almost three times the size of the second-biggest island of New Guinea, and you could fit over 408 Guadalcanal islands within it.

In the visualization, the islands are also tinted, depending on the climate they come from. Blue islands are from the polar regions, turquoise islands lie in the temperate zones, and green islands represent the lush tropics. Which of these regions hosts the most islands?

this chart shows the 100 biggest islands
The 100 biggest islands.
Image: Visual Capitalist

To see the full chart, click here.

It's the island life for many

North America dominates with 32 islands out of the top 100, but there’s a catch — twelve of them are uninhabitable, thanks to the frigid Arctic temperatures.

Throw the number of people into the mix and the regional overview gets even more interesting. Compared to the rest of the world, Asian islands are teeming with life.

  • 28 Asian islands
    Total population: 510.4 million
  • 14 European islands
    Total population: 83.8 million
  • 32 North American islands
    Total population: 40.7 million
  • 12 Oceania islands
    Total population: 18.3 million

Taking things a step further, we’ve remixed the visualization based on population density.

Click below to view the full-size version.

a diagram of the hundred largest islands in the world by population density
The hundred largest islands in the world by population density.
Image: David Garcia

The most populated island in the world, Java is filled to the brim with 141 million people — that’s over a thousand people per square kilometer. This is in part thanks to the capital city Jakarta being located on the island, but experts warn those days may be short-lived. By 2050, scientific models predict that 95% of the city may be underwater, and that Indonesia must scramble to find a new capital.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

To finish, here is the 20 most dense islands on the list, in terms of population density.

a table showing the 20 most dense islands on the list, in terms of population density
The 20 islands from the original list with the greatest population density.
Image: Visual Capitalist

The Australia-Island debate

Upon first publishing this over two years ago, the most common feedback we heard came from our friends Down Under.

In school, many Australians learned that their beloved country was an “island continent”, and naturally felt it should be included on the list of the world’s 100 biggest islands.

As with anything, there are different schools of thought on this. Upon digging deeper, we believed that Encyclopedia Britannica had a explanatory take on the issue:

“Most geographers consider islands and continents to be separate things. An island is a mass of land that is both ‘entirely surrounded by water’ and also ‘smaller than a continent.’ By that definition, Australia can’t be an island because it’s already a continent.”
– ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA

There are, of course, opposing arguments that could be had—but at least this gives some perspective on why Australia was likely excluded from this particular list.

This post was first published in 2019. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.