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?