Back to the topic of islands. This time, instead of looking at their names, we’ll be looking at their sizes.

I should mention that this post was partly inspired by a picture which Ahmed Zahid tweeted a while ago. I saw it and thought “hmm, it would be interesting to see all the islands compared like this”, so that’s what I did (kind of).

Picture tweeted by Ahmed Zahid

But before we get to that, I’ll go through some boring graphs.

Area of Islands

Maldivian Islands are small. Even the large ones are small. However, everything is relative, which is why people in Malé think it’s necessary to have cars. It’s true – Malé is big. But it’s not that big. The following graph should put things into perspective.

All Island Area

Each little box represents an inhabited island or an airport island. You can clearly see that the overwhelming majority of those islands are very small. Malé sits around the 200 hectare mark.

Here is what the graph looks like when you take away the largest islands:

Small Island Area

Make of that what you will.

Shape of Islands

The tool which I used to measure the areas of the islands also told me their perimeters. So I recorded those to find the relationship between the two, and in doing so, got an indication of the typical shape of inhabited islands.

If you’re wondering how that works, it’s to do with an interesting property of circles. Basically, for any given area, a circle has the smallest perimeter, and for any given perimeter, a circle has the smallest area.

In the following graph, the closer a green dot is to the line of blue dots, the closer the island it represents is to being a perfect circle.

Maldives Area Perimeter

You can see that the smaller islands tend to be circular, while the larger ones have considerable variation in their shape.

Comparison of All Inhabited Islands

So here’s the image you’ve all been waiting for. I didn’t use satellite images (although I may do that in the future) but instead chose to use colourful squares. The position of the atolls are roughly the same as they are in real life, but the positions of the islands are not. I tried to include all inhabited islands and all airport islands. If there are any missing, it is probably because I was misinformed about the islanders being relocated. The image takes into account all but the most recent reclamation works, for example in S. Feydhoo. The black squares give an indication of the scale. (Click the image for full size)

Maldives Island Sizes

Some Quick Facts:

  • The largest island is L. Gan, with an area of approximately 697 hectares
  • The smallest island is ADh. Kunburudhoo, with an area of approximately 5.9 hectares
  • Kaafu atoll and Laamu atoll have the greatest variation in the size of their islands
  • Vaavu atoll has the smallest average island size
  • The size of an island is not always a clear indication of its population or its level of development
  • The total area is around 149 km²
  • Due to all the reclamation work over the past 20 or so years, the country is larger than it has ever been.
  • If the population were spread evenly, there would be around 2500 people per square kilometre (compare that to the 60,000/km² currently in Malé). Another way of putting it is that every person will have around 400m² to themselves (compared to around 17m² in Malé)

One Last Thing to Consider

Maldivians should be humble because they have so little, and they should be grateful because they have so much. If I did this again 50 years in the future, the coloured squares will look very different. Right now, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. We’ll have to wait and see.