The United States has the fifth-most islands of any nation in the world, behind Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Canada. Where are most of those U.S. islands located? Which state has the most islands in the nation?
It is not necessarily as straightforward as it may seem, largely because there is no standard metric for what constitutes an island. Islands are surrounded by water, by definition, but how big must the land be to be considered an island?
Generally speaking, an island must be large enough to remain above water at high tide. Many islands are less than one acre in total size. Islands this small are sometimes called islets.
An island must also be smaller than a continent. Greenland, which is three times the size of Texas, is generally considered the largest island in the world. Australia is the smallest continent but is considered too large to be an island.
Because of the loose, non-standardized definition of an island, there may be disagreement on which state has the most islands in its jurisdiction. However, one state wins the overall competition fairly easily.
Alaska officially recognizes 1,800 named islands, per the state’s website. There are over 800 additional islands with names that the state may not officially recognize. And this doesn’t take into account other islands which are not named, either officially or colloquially. Those islands, including islands in the state’s many inland lakes, number in the thousands.
The majority of Alaska’s coastal islands are in the southern part of the state, including the state’s largest island. Kodiak Island measures nearly 3,600 square miles, making it not only the largest island in Alaska but also the second-largest island in the U.S., behind the Big Island of Hawaii.
All of these islands, combined with Alaska’s massive size, give the state the most coastline of any U.S. state at over 6,600 miles.
There are well over 4,000 islands in Maine, the largest of which is Mount Desert Island at 108 square miles. Incidentally, the island’s name is pronounced like the word “dessert” instead of the normal pronunciation of “desert.”
A State of Islands
All 50 states have islands. Some may only feature small islands in rivers or lakes, but every U.S. state has islands in some form. One state is made up entirely of islands, though. That state, of course, is Hawaii.
The Hawaiian archipelago has eight major islands: Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau, and Oahu. However, 137 islands in total make up the state of Hawaii.
At 4,000 square miles, Hawaii Island, commonly known as “The Big Island,” is the largest of Hawaii’s islands as well as the largest island in the United States.
An Island That Isn’t an Island
Rhode Island is the only state with the word “island” in its name. There are 108 listed islands in the state. However, the majority of the state’s land, including the capital city of Providence, is connected to the United States mainland. The name “Rhode Island” dates back to the sixteenth-century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano. As he explored Narragansett Bay, he wrote that he discovered an island “about the bignesse of the Ilande of the Rodes.” The name stuck.
Along with these states, there are also island territories that are under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government.
This is the only U.S. territory south of the equator. Five volcanic islands and two coral atolls make this U.S. territory. American Samoa has a total land area of approximately 76 square miles.
The island of Guam is the southernmost of the Mariana Islands and is the largest island in Micronesia. The total land area of Guam is around 225 square miles.
Northern Mariana Islands
This U.S. territory comprises 14 islands with a total area of 183.5 square miles.
Puerto Rico comprises one main island, four small islands, and hundreds of cays and islets. The total land of Puerto Rico accounts for over 3,500 square miles, making it larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands comprise three main islands (St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas), along with around 50 cays and islets. The total land area of the U.S. Virgin Islands is just under 134 square miles.
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