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Insularity is the situation of isolation and inaccessibility of a place surrounded by sea. This situation can be further compounded by increasing isolation from other islands and the respective continent: an isolation that is typically not only physical. Many islands are both peripheral to, and dependent on, main centres of political, social and economic activity.

The project found that 4% of the ESPON space are islands, with 2,6% of population living there (this only considers islands without a fixed link to the mainland).

Delineation of islands for GEOSPECS

The delineation of islands started by identifying all territories that are physically disjoint from the European mainland. Given the focus of the study on the social and economic relevance of insularity, the 601 islands connected to the mainland by a fixed road link - most in the Nordic countries - were then excluded.

A total 319 "island territories", defined as an individual municipality comprising multiple islands, or a single island with one or more municipalities, can be identified in the ESPON space. In addition, many islands are part of a municipality that is not entirely composed of one or more islands. Municipalities with a significant insular component were defined as those including islands with a total area of at least 10 km² or where the insular area comprises at least 8% of the municipal area.

Delineation of Islands Map 1

Some Key Findings from the quantitative analysis of GEOSPECS

By far the largest number of islands is considerably small both in terms of land area (less than 1000km2) as well as population size (less than 100,000 inhabitants). Having said this, however, there is a greater number of total municipalities in islands that exceed 1000km2 in size and in those whose population range between 100,000 and 1m people. The Mediterranean Sea is home to the largest number of islands, municipalities as well as inhabitants, and in it are located the only three islands with a population larger than 1m, namely Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. The largest island surface area occupied by islands is however in the Atlantic Sea, reflecting Iceland that occupies 85% of this land area.

In terms of economic profile, a number of observations can be made. First and foremost, trends in employment appear to reflect trends at national and even transnational level. Islands in the Atlantic, Baltic, North and Norwegian seas have a higher employment rate than those in the Mediterranean Sea and those in the Outermost regions. The Mediterranean and the Outermost islands also share a common high share of public sector employment. The retail and tourism sector is particularly strong in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean islands, which typically draw tourists due to their outstanding natural beauty and favourable climate respectively.

The share of employment in education and health is substantially lower for archipelagos, as they may often rely on the rest of the islands in the administrative unit for the provision of such services.

Smaller islands are slightly more diversified than larger ones, which implies that residents on these islands need to keep their employment options open and find it hard to specialise in a few areas. This factor also emerged from the Outer Hebrides case study, where people had to work a number of different jobs in order to reduce the impact of seasonality on their income.

Employment in Islands

These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.

Photo This project is part-financed by the EU
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of the ESPON monitoring committee