Indonesia can boast that it is the world’s largest archipelago, but when it gets down to the numbers, details are a little vague. It’s estimated to have 17,508 islands, of which around 8,000 are inhabited but no-one knows for sure, so this year the Southeast Asian nation that stretches to 300 miles off the coast of northern Australia has set out to count them all.
The goal is to register Indonesia’s islands with the U.N., which will guarantee protection for inhabitants living on the smaller islands. Indonesia’s aim is to secure territory and resources to support a rapidly-growing population. But as the world’s seventh largest country by sea and land mass, Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, has its work cut out.
“It’s not so easy. It can take up to six days to get to some of these faraway islands and then many people disagree on the name. Traditionally, it might have been called X but the people who live there call it Y and the nearby fishermen call it Z.” Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, head of the spatial management department at the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, told the FT.
If an island is named by two locals then it’s name can be recognized officially, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Indonesia is a nation of more than 300 languages and tribes, providing a challenge for a cohesive, centralized government to manage. Some islands in the archipelago have sunk or disappeared over time, while others have been gifted to neighbors: During a territorial dispute in 2002 Indonesia gave Malaysia two islands.