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Divided Islands, Large and Small

Submitted by on March 27, 2012 – 2:17 pm 12 Comments |  
The recent GeoCurrents news post on electronics factories in Tierra del Fuego brought up the issue of a politically divided island. I did a quick mental count and came up with eight examples of such islands: New Guinea, Borneo, Ireland, Hispaniola, Timor, Cyprus, Saint Martin, and Tierra del Fuego (or, more properly, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, to differentiate it from the archipelago of the same name.). The Wikipedia, however, lists seven other divided “sea islands,” as well as numerous divided lake and river islands.  I had never heard of any of the other divided sea islands, although two are significantly larger than Saint Martin. I have provided maps of all these islands except Embankment No. 4 on the King Fahd Causeway, split between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which I was unable to locate.

Indonesia has territory on more divided islands than any other country: New Guinea, Borneo, Timor, and Sebatik. At first glance, Borneo seems to be the most complexly divided island, as it contains major portions of two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the entire extent of another, Brunei. The division of Cyprus, however, is more intricate. Cyprus contains two de facto countries, Cyprus and the Northern Cypriot Republic, although the international community largely rejects the legitimacy of the latter state. But Cyprus is further split by the existence of two sovereign British military bases, as well as a U.N. “buffer strip” that separates the two independent countries.

The bulk of the territory of several internationally recognized countries is situated on divided islands: Papua New Guinea, Republic of Ireland, Brunei, Timor Leste, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cyprus. The Dutch half of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) is also counted as a country, but not an independent one; rather, is forms a “constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” The only island that is divided into two countries both of whose territories are largely limited to that island is Hispaniola, split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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  • Paul Clapham

    I think you’re jumping the gun on Hans Island… at present it’s just a disputed island and not officially split between Canada and Denmark/Greenland. Although there is talk that a treaty is in the works to make the split, see http://www.uphere.ca/node/785 for example.

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      Many thanks for the additional information. As the article that you linked to notes, if the deal is formalized, Canada will gain its second land border. 

  • Guy

    Hi, the given area of Borneo seems to be wrong: it is exactly the same as that of New Guinea (785,753 sq. km). Wikipedia gives
    743,330 sq. km for Borneo.

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      Thanks for catching that!  I will correct the map and repost it later today. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Rosa/1593565364 Peter Rosa

    If you really want to split hairs you could add Cuba to the list, what with the US base at Guantanamo Bay.  

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      Excellent point, but this is an ambiguous situation. Strictly speaking, Guantanamo Bay is Cuban territory that is under a perpetual and unbreakable lease to the U.S. The U.S. thus sends nominal rent checks to Cuba, but they are not cashed. Rumor has it they the checks remain in a drawer in Fidel Castro’s desk. 

  • Gearalt Ua Fathaigh

    Love your website – great to see Ireland get a mention – anyone following the Scottish independence debate cannot but laugh when a retired Ulster Unionist politician (John Taylor aka Lord Kilclooney) recently wrote a letter to the Scotsman newspaper suggesting that areas in Scotland which didn’t vote for independence should be allowed remain in the UK in a partition arrangement. I kid you not!

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      Thanks for the comments.  Imagine how complex such a division of Scotland would be! 

      • Paul Clapham

         That might be interesting… Baarle Hertog already has a minor tourist industry for people who want to photograph the painted border line going through grocery stores and the like, so maybe Scotland could benefit from a highly complex division in that way too.

        • http://www.pereltsvaig.com Asya Pereltsvaig

          This reminds me of houses on the Canada-US border, with the border running straight through the house. Apparently, they were quite useful during the US Prohibition era…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-T-Wilson/682045086 James T. Wilson

    I fail to see what is so ridiculous in Lord Kilclooney’s suggestion.  Trying to keep regions inhabited by those who do not want to separate has been unwise in every instance I can think of.  I am quite glad that the 1775 invasion of Canada failed, for instance.

    In general, I don’t see anything more anomalous in the division of an “island” than in the division of any other landform.  Is it anomalous that the Eurasian landmass is home to more than one government?

    • http://geocurrents.info Martin W. Lewis

      Interesting points. As far as far as Lord Kilclooney’s suggestions are concerned, the main issue would be the possible complexity of the division of Scotland that could result. The division of island’s politically is not not necessarily anomalous, but it does created interesting issues when the islands in question are small, as in the case of St. Martin.