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Geo-Joint: Most-Crowded Islands

Posted on July 27 2016

No man is an island, they say, but some islands have more than enough men (and women.) As with our previous hunt for the densest country, there are two ways to maximize density: put a lot of people on a small island, or put a bajillion people on a larger island. We’ll look at a few variations. The places that probably spring to mind most readily are those that are well known for their huge masses of humanity. That brings up that island supposedly sold by Native Americans to the Dutch for a handful of trinkets. Apocryphal though the story may be, the island of Manhattan is now worth several mountains of trinkets and is home to over 1.644 million souls. This is made more doable by stacking people on top of each other in huge high-rises, but there’s no rule that says everybody has to have their feet on the ground at the same time. Manhattan, then, is one crowded place, but at about 72,000 people per square mile, its only the eighth most densely packed island worldwide according to those who tabulate these things.

Salsette Island is another candidate for the top spot. Never heard of it? You may be familiar with the little village that sits on it – Mumbai, India. Mumbai, the former Bombay, completely overwhelms Manhattan’s people count, at over 15.1 million. It has its own forest of skyscrapers, but it’s also a much bigger island, so when all the math is done, Mumbai comes in behind Manhattan at roughly 63,180 people to the square mile.

Casting about the globe, one might notice Singapore or Hong Kong, both tightly packed places. Still, they tally well behind the leader. Other islands that might strike you as being in the running are some other parts of NYC – Staten Island, Roosevelt Island, City Island – none of them even close to the top ten. Key West, Florida would seem pretty crowded, but at #60, it ranks behind Bahrain and O’ahu.

The list of the top 77 most-crowded islands includes many obscure names probably unknown to the general public and even to many of the geographically aware. This is still true as you get to the top 10, because it’s the little-bitty ones with, really, too many people for the square footage, that get the highest rank. Tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria, Kenya has a miniscule .00077 square miles for its 131 citizens and ranks 3rd overall. At second is Ap Lei Chow, an island associated with Hong Kong, harboring 86,782 people in just over half a square mile. Finally, finding that sweet spot between too many people and not enough land is Santa Cruz del Islote, a Colombian island in the Caribbean. Only .00463 square miles (or 2.4 acres), harboring 1,247 people, it weighs in with a density of 269,330 people per square mile. Now that’s tight.

Nearly every square foot of Santa Cruz del Islote is built upon, though none of the structures are greater than two stories. Narrow walkways wend around the 90 houses, a school, and a few other buildings, which go right to the waterline. Some of the island is fill, but it’s all very low elevation – the residents aren’t looking forward to sea level rise. People live there but work in other places – as fishermen on the water or at the nearby resorts on other islands. Very limited electrical power and a lack of running water mitigate against building anything more substantial, but the locals are reported to be happy and harmonious, the kids respectful and well-behaved. Apparently the richness of having a tight-knit community outweighs the downside of close quarters. They may have a thing or two to teach the rest of the 7.4 billion folks living on this tiny planet.

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