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Indonesia Hopes To Get Exact Count Of Its Islands


Indonesia has 17,000 islands. At least that's what people say. No one's exactly sure how many islands there are. So earlier this year, the government started an official count, and it will submit the final number to the United Nations.


It's a daunting task because Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago.

TERRY BIGALKE: You could basically fit it over the continental United States. It's about 3,000 miles east to west and about 1,500 miles north to south.

SIEGEL: So that's Dr. Terry Bigalke. He's an Indonesia specialist with the East-West Center in Hawaii. He's been to quite a few of Indonesia's islands.

BIGALKE: Sumatra and Java, the Celebes, Borneo, Bali and Lombok and the western part of Timor.

SIEGEL: Those are among the thousand at most that are inhabited. Most of Indonesia's islands have no inhabitants. Bigalke says there's a wide variety.

BIGALKE: From some of the largest islands in the world to tiny, minuscule islands that are part of the whole kind of question of whether they're real or not.

MCEVERS: Some of Indonesia's islands are so small, they're really just sandy outcrops or reefs that get submerged at high tide. U.N. rules say those don't actually count as islands.

SIEGEL: The South China Sea is to Indonesia's north. That's where China has been staking out more claims to territory. And Dr. Bigalke says there's good reason for Indonesia to lay claim to as many islands as possible.

BIGALKE: Part of it is thinking strategically about where the rich fishing grounds are and perhaps strategically also from a kind of military perspective of where you really want to put your efforts to protect Indonesian territory.

SIEGEL: Indonesia's island count is scheduled to go on for the rest of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARM OFFENSIVE SONG, "ISLANDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.