Almost Landlocked

On September 19, 2010 · 12 Comments

Trivia. Trick questions. Fun Stuff. I love a good, lazy Sunday.

Landlocked, double landlocked, borderlocking and boundary crosses have occupied my thoughts at various moments over the years. What about places though that are not landlocked, but just barely? We all have our favorite territories that touch the sea by the thinnest of margins. Which ones would be the best representations?

It’s pointless to search for "Shortest Coastline." This will result in thousands of geographic trivia websites that all steal from each other. Precious little thought goes into any of these sites. They’re decorated with cleverly or not-so-cleverly disguised advertisements hoping to snag the occasional inadvertent click from some sucker who’s been tricked into landing there. Content doesn’t matter to them except to the extent they can fool search engines into pointing at their pages.

They will all say that Monaco is the answer. They’re correct in a sense. Monaco does have the shortest international coastline at about 4.4 kilometres. However Monaco is practically nothing but coastline. There probably isn’t a spot in the entire principality that’s more than a kilometre from a coastline. Throw a rock anywhere within Monaco and stands a good chance of hitting water.

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Monaco can be cleanly and clearly discarded when discussing countries nearly landlocked. It’s the typical situation of people overlooking exceptions when asked geo-trivia questions. It’s part of the fun.

Other sites bend-and-stretch "landlocked" into wincing definitions. Moldova, for example, includes a half-kilometre riverbank along the Danube River within its territory. This grants them access to the Danube international waterway and presumably access to the outside world’s shipping channels. Rivers aren’t generally considered international waterways but the Danube is a specific exception. I can see why some might argue that Moldova isn’t technically landlocked. By the same definition, however, neither are Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. This claim seems a bit tenuous to me.

Let’s put the poseurs aside and take a closer look at the more remarkable contenders. Let’s examine the ratio of each nation’s territorial coverage to the length of its coastline. Estimates for coastlines vary. Should one measure the best fitting straight-line distance across the gap or would it be more appropriate to measure every nook-and-cranny? I decided to use a single consistent source for all areas and coastlines, the CIA World Factbook, which seems to follow coastal contours more faithfully than some other sources I consulted. Feel free to take it up with the CIA if you disagree.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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I believe a solid argument can be crafted to crown the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the country formerly known as Zaire) as the premier example of a nation almost landlocked. This hulking nation weighs in at 2.34 million square kilometres with a paltry coastline of 37 km.

The ratio: 63.3 thousand sq km of territory per kilometre of coastline. Hey Monaco, chew on that for awhile!


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Iraq’s small outlet includes the strategic Al-Faw Peninsula. Iraq probably uses its tiny coast better than any other nearly landlocked nation. They’ve located two oil tanker terminals, Khor Al-Amaya and Mina Al-Bakr in close proximity and use their perch to control access to the Shatt al-Arab Waterway and the port of Basra. That’s quite a lot of economic activity focused on a 58 km coastline.

The ratio: 7.6 thousand square kilometres of territory per kilometre of coastline.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has a shorter coastline than either DR Congo or Iraq — just 20 km — but it’s also considerably smaller so the ratio suffers as a result. Its brief coastline along the Adriatic Sea centers on the tourist town of Neum. This strip served as an elite communist retreat during the days of the former Yugoslavia. Now its a tiny nub protruding from larger Bosnia and Herzegovina serving only to grant it an outlet to the sea.

The ratio: 2.6 thousand square kilometres of territory per kilometre of coastline.

Ratios drop quickly from there. Here are few more interesting situations that I examined.

  • Togo and Benin [map]. Togo and Benin both have respectable ratios. I like this one because they border each other. They get the coveted "Nearly landlocked binary nations award." Ratios = 1.0 thousand and 0.9 thousand respectively
  • Slovenia [map]. I thought this was going to be a real contender but it’s tripped up by its jagged coastline that the CIA measures at 47km. Ratio = 0.4 thousand.
  • The Gambia [map]. It has a short 80 km coastline but it’s also a really skinny country so the ratio doesn’t work for it. Ratio = 0.1 thousand
  • New Hampshire [map]. OK, it’s an individual U.S. state not a nation but it’s a common example a lot of people in the United States mention. Ratio = 0.8 thousand. That’s respectable but hardly remarkable. Of course New Hampshire makes sure it collects a toll from everyone who crosses its tiny coastal corridor along Interstate 95.
  • Monaco. Ridiculous. Ratio = 0.00045 thousand (or 2 sq km area to 4.4 km coastline). If I’ve done my math correctly then Monaco would need a coastline of about 3 millimetres to have a similar ratio to D.R. Congo.

Do you have any other favorites? Maybe states/provinces within specific nations?

On September 19, 2010 · 12 Comments

12 Responses to “Almost Landlocked”

  1. wangi says:

    Passed through Neum last year. While it may give Bosnia access to the sea; it’s not in a practical way. Access to the rest of Bosnia for freight is essentially non-existent, they use a Croatian port.

    Of course that doesn’t stop a bit of local sabre rattling – Bosnian’s saying it will be developed as a sea port so any bridge the Croatians build to bypass Neum (currently have to dive through it to get to Dubrovnik etc) needs to allow big sea going vessels under it…

    And this small bit of coast has an interesting history too – a buffer state of sorts. Originally part of Dubrovnik but passed to the Ottomans, and thus buffering Dubrovnik from the Venetian Republic.

  2. Greg says:

    There’s the “sorta” case of the Australian Capital Territory via Jervis Bay. And Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie coast.

      • Cape May says:

        The PA Lake Erie shoreline is about 40 miles long, vs. a pretty bloody big state. Worth doing the ratios on. (Unlike Michigan, which is bordered by water on all but its southern border!)

        • Pennsylvania is an interesting case. The ratio of the total area of Pennsylvania to length of its Erie Triangle coastline is about 1.3 thousand (roughly 119 thousand square kilometres to 92 kilometres). That’s fairly impressive.

          However we run into issues of definition. What does "landlocked." really mean?

          • The Great Lakes have a circuitous route to the sea via the St. Lawrence Seaway System, including tortured pathways through a series of narrow locks and canals. It’s not much different than Moldova, described above. Freighters can and do make it all the way up to Duluth. If Erie, PA isn’t landlocked the logically neither are Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Minnesota.
          • The Delaware River estuary provides an outlet to the sea on Pennsylvania’s eastern border for 92 km, including the Port of Philadelphia. If physical access to an ocean via rivers count towards the definition (per above) then that would add considerably to Pennsylvania’s coastline and reduce its ratio considerably.
          • Let’s not forget about Ohio River access to Pittsburg, either! It’s reputedly the second most significant inland port in the United States by tonnage (principally coal).

          There seems to be a consensus, with some dissent, that Pennsylvania is technically a landlocked state albeit with robust access to the sea.

          • Greg says:

            But in your Seventeen Steps from Middle post, you seem to treat the Great Lakes as sort of an inland international coastline in that you consider Illinois to be a border state even though none of its counties lie along the international boundary. So perhaps Great Lakes states, by virtue of lying on an inland sea, are not landlocked. (And certainly, as an Ohioan, I don’t consider my state to be landlocked.)

          • Touché! … you mean I can’t hypocritically flip-flop to suits my needs?!? 😉

            What does the crowd think? States with outlet(s) to the sea: Landlocked or not landlocked?

  3. Ian says:

    Hey, what about Jordan!? It must be about 3 thousand?

    • Ah yes, Jordan. Absolutely — great catch! It was on my mental list as I drafting the article but somehow I lost the thought in transit. Jordan’s coastline is 26 km according to the CIA World Factbook and has a resulting ratio of about 3.4 thousand. It falls within the same basic category as Bosnia and Herzegovina. No disrespect to the people of Jordan intended, and it’s certainly worthy of a map:

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      As I’ve noted on previous occasions, I really need to fire my editor. 🙂

  4. Greg says:

    Have you ever done a post on “barely landlocked?” I think that would be interesting. Ethiopia maybe?

  5. Jasmin says:

    Resurrecting an old thread, but there are some other interesting examples out there.

    1. Even in a land as surronded by water as Britain, the English county of Cheshire would count as “nearly landlocked”. It has a tiny slither of coast at the base of the Wirral peninsula, where the Dee empties into the Irish Sea. It also has access to the river Mersey, which though it’s tidal is probably stretching the definition of “coastline”.

    2. Another UK county is Denbighshire in Wales, with a slightly more generous opening onto the Irish sea.

    3. Moldova deserves a mention for being “almost coastal”. Aside from the Danube riverbank, it must rank as being the landlocked nation most frustratingly close to open water. It comes within 2km of the coast in the esturial bay formed by the Dniester. Worse, the land separating it from the water is flat, undeveloped marshland and salt pans, alas controlled by Ukraine.,30.1139462,12z?hl=en

    4. In China, Jilin province is so “almost coastal” it hurts. It’s seperated from the Sea of Japan by a tiny tongue of land along the Tumen river the that forms the Russian frontier with North Korea. By treaty, China has the right of navigation on the Tumen through short the Russian/N.Korean section to the sea, though in practice the river is far to shallow to make it useful for modern shipping.

    5. And last but not least, of course, the ACT in Australia. As has been mentioned it looks landlocked, but actually possesses the tiny exclave of Jervis Bay. The exclave was granted to the ACT specifically to give it maritime access, though it’s never been seriously developed. Curiously, it was planned to be the site of Australia’s only commercial nuclear power plant. Some works even took place before the whole thing was scrapped.,150.5555194,11z

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