Which is the remotest inhabited island? How far is it from the nearest human habitation?

The surface of our planet is mostly made up of water bodies. About 71% of all the Earth’s surface is covered with water. The remaining 29% is occupied by non-water bodies. These bodies include both small islands and large continents spread out in different parts of the world. Besides the seven continents, there are also numerous smaller portions of land called islands.

It is not simple to identify a separate piece of land and declare it an island just by looking at it. Sometimes, small masses of lands may be joined together by narrow bridges of Earth going underwater. Besides that, there is the issue that sometimes islands can disappear underwater or converge with other islands over long periods of time. 

Depending on how you distinguish between large islands and small continents, there may be hundreds of thousands of islands in the world. For instance, according to Finland’s Official Tourism Board, Finland alone is home to almost 180 000 islands. In the US, it is estimated that the state of Alaska has more than 2 650 islands. This also helps make it the largest state of the country.

There isn’t a clear distinction when it comes to the difference between an island and a continent. It is generally agreed that an island is a relatively small piece of land that is surrounded by water on all sides. An island is owned by a single country or organization, and sometimes, a lot of small islands can together make up a country.

A continent, however, is a much larger continuous mass of land that may be composed of thousands of islands or hundreds of countries. Continents are situated on their own tectonic plates. Greenland, for example, is considered to be the largest island, even though it covers a huge area of more than 2 million square kilometers. This is because it is located on the same tectonic plate as that of North America. 

But what about the remotest piece of land within the ocean? Clearly, continents can’t be considered remote, given their entangled structures. So, when we look at the most isolated location on Earth, we’ll have to resort to looking for an island.

There is a small 110-square kilometer island named Tristan-da-Cunha, which enjoys the unenviable honor of being the most isolated human habitation on Earth. It is situated in the huge 82 217 000-square kilometers Atlantic Ocean, between the continents of South America and Africa. It was named after its discoverer, the Portuguese Admiral Tristao da Cunha, in 1506. The nearest human habitation present around this island also happens to be another small island named St. Helena, which is located at a distance of 2 110 kilometers.  

Having an area of 120 square kilometers and a population of about 7 000, the St. Helena Island is famous as the home of Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile after the Battle of Waterloo. Coming back to Tristan-da-Cunha Island; it was gradually raised from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by the successive layers of cooling lava which erupted due to the volcanic activity. Continuing volcanic activity has raised the volcano’s crater to an altitude of 2 060 meters (6,760 feet) above the sea level. Many years later, possession of this uninhabited island passed into the hands of Great Britain, which established a naval base on the island in 1816 but wound it up next year while Napoleon was living on the ‘neighboring’ St. Helena Island. 

However, three of the colonists decided to remain behind amidst the pristine sylvan environment of the island. With the passage of time, the inhabitants increased as the lucky shipwrecks managed to reach the shore of Tristan-da-Cunha Island. The island continued to be a British possession, and by 1886, the population grew to 97. 

The volcanic activity resumed in the 20th century, and when a volcano erupted on October 9, 1961, all the inhabitants were evacuated immediately and brought to Britain. Not all the evacuees felt at home in the hustle and bustle in Britain, and many (198, to be precise) returned to their small, remote island home in 1963. Today, there are only 370 people living on the island. They have chosen to live a quiet life, maintaining only tenuous links with the outside world. 

Additional reading

Tristan da Cunha (Wikipedia)