Ten Fun Facts About Islands


The Twin Peaks of El Nido, Philippines. Photo by Alejandro Luengo on Unsplash

Each week I set out to research and document ten "fun facts" on a topic loosely based on the two books I've reviewed that week.  "Loosely" being the operative word. 

This week I reviewed Sea People, Christina Thompson's fantastic book on the history of the "puzzle of Polynesia", and Miles Harvey's The King of Confidencea microshistory of the 19th century self-proclaimed "King James", who reigned on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan.

The Polynesian people settled and have occupied the islands of the central Pacific Ocean for over a thousand years, and understanding how they did it is part of what motivates Thompson's book. James Strang, Harvey's "King of Confidence" led a band of Mormons to settle on Beaver Island, but he and the whole colony were gone within a decade. Regardless of their length of stay, the lure of island life helped motivate both groups of people.

Say the word "island", and many people instantly conjure up images of tropical paradise, perhaps on a Polynesian isle. Yet, as Harvey' book reminds us, islands occur all over the world, from the balmy shores of Fuji or Tahiti to the wintry shores of Canada or Norway. Wherever they occur, on oceans, lakes and rivers all over the world, islands have a special meaning as a land apart - an escape from our dreary continental lives.

Here then, are Ten Fun Facts About Islands:

Last Friday's Ten Fun Facts blog post included a lot of links to videos, but this week I've embedded the videos directly into my post. I hope this makes it a bit easier to navigate...

Ten Fun Facts About Islands

  1. Lonesome in the Pacific - The Galapagos Islands archipelago is located in the eastern Pacific, part of the nation of Ecuador. Well known for the diversity of it's plants and animals, the Galapagos are home to some species that are not found anywhere else. One of those, the Giant Pinta tortoise was thought to be extinct, with the 2012 passing of Lonesome George, the last of his kind. Recent research and DNA analysis may have located some of George's cousins, and, if true, those relatives have pulled the species back from extinction.  

  2. Official, but Rarely Used - The Solomon Islands chain in the western Pacific is the home of more than six hundred thousand people. The Solomons consists of 992 islands, only 347 of which are populated. Though English is the official language, only 1 to 2 percent of the population actually speaks it. The language most commonly spoken is Melanesian pidgin. There are over 120 different languages in the Solomons.
  3. Biggest Island? Smallest Continent? - Back a million years ago when I was in grade school, we were taught that Australia was the largest island nation, and not a continent. Somewhere along the way, that changed. Today, Australia is acknowledged as a continent, while Greenland is considered the largest island nation. What changed? Turns out the definition of a continent is not exactly scientifically prescribed. 

  4. So, What's an Island? - If the definition of a continent seems a little loose, the definition of an island is a bit more settled - or maybe not. It's a body of land surrounded by water, and one that's not big enough to be a continent. (Sigh.
  5. City Life IS Country Life - Singapore is the only island that is also a city, and a country. Ok, technically the country has some "satellite islands", but let's not quible.
  6. Whistle While You Work - The Canary Islands lie off the coast of Spain in the Atlantic. La Gomera, one of the Canaries, is home to a whistled language called Silbo Gomero, a language once used by shepherds on the island to communicate with one another over long distances. (There's a bit of untranslated Spanish in the video below, but it's well worth a watch).

  7. An Island in a Lake in an Island... - The unsalted seas of the Great Lakes contain a number of islands, the largest of which is Manitoulin Island (1,068 sq. mi. or 2,766 sq. km.) in Lake Huron.  Manitoulin Island itself has a number of lakes, the largest of which is Lake Mindemoya, home to Treasure Island. That makes Treasure Island the largest island in the largest lake in the largest island in a freshwater lake.

    If that's confusing, consider the story of Moose Boulder, which rests in  a pond called Moose Flats, in Ryan Island, which itself is located in Siskiwit Lake in Isle Royale, the largest island in the world's largest freshwater lake, Superior. There have been some who claim Moose Boulder doesn't exist, but if it does it is the largest island in the largest lake, in the largest island in the largest lake, in the largest island in the largest lake in the world. Got that?

      - NPR News report from March 13, 2020

  8. Here's to Your Health - The happiest place on earth might not be on an island, but the healthiest place on earth just may be. The Japanese islands of Okinawa, an archipelago of 160 islands, have over 450 people over the age of 100. The average lifespan there is 78 years for men and 86 for women. But the island with the highest longevity may well be the Greek island of Ikaria. One in three Ikarians live past the age of 90.

  9. No, not "Hawaii" - If you're speedreading through this post you might mistake "Haida Gwaii" for "Hawaii". But no, Haida Gwaii, previously known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, lie about 60 miles off the coast of British Columbia. The name Haida Gwaii means "Islands of the Haida People" in the local Haida language. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, the land and waters of Haida Gwaii are stunningly beautiful.

  10. The Right Side is the Wrong Side - If you are driving your car in the United States you are driving on the right side of the road. Unless you are driving in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), the only place in the USA where you drive on the left side. Since the cars there are the same cars found elsewhere in the U.S., you as a driver will be, not near the center of the lane, but near the shoulder, which makes for a unique driving experience! So, why is driving in the USVI like this? Well, this blogger has an answer. 
So there you have it. Are you an island dweller, or have a favorite island in your life? Leave a comment below.