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The Smallest & Strangest Border: Market Island 📍
What could be the world's most fair border is definitely the weirdest (📍Bonkers Borders Series)
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In This Post:
This Week’s Video: The Smallest & Strangest Border - Märket Island
Other Tiny Island Borders (incl an even smaller one nearby!)
Extra Credit: What’s DXing?
The Smallest & Strangest Border
Märket Island, Baltic Sea, Sweden / Finland
Saint Martin in the Caribbean likes to claim that it’s the smallest island with an international border. That’s a fun stat, but it’s not.
There are smaller ones out there, including a brand new one in Hans Island which Canada and Greenland agreed to split last year. (I like to think I helped make that happen, though there’s no evidence to prove it - see the Whiskey Wars videos!).
But neither of those hold a penny to Märket Island, a tiny speck of a place between Sweden and Finland that probably has the world’s strangest border arrangement.
Market Island is an 8-acre rock in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. The 2 countries have shared it for more than a century, with such polite civility that the border resembles an origami swan, with some stretches only lasting a couple feet.
Here’s how that happened:
For most of the 19th century, Finland was controlled by the Russian Empire. Märket Island was a serious hazard for boats so the Russians built a lighthouse there in 1885. The general assumption is that the island was considered a no man’s land so no one was concerned about where the lighthouse was built, although some think the Russians were more calculating than that. Either way, the Russian lighthouse was placed in what later became pretty clear was the Swedish part.
So, in 1985, Sweden and Finland, which gained independence in 1917, decided to make that little mishap right. They wanted to share the island equally, but they also didn’t want to mess up their neat sea border, which would complicate fishing rights.
So, they very nicely mapped out an exactly equitable split around the lighthouse and back again so that both nations get half of the island and keep their fishing areas.
In a weird twist, the Swedish side is actually split between two different counties, the reason for which I do not know (email me if you do!! - firstname.lastname@example.org).
Today, Märket Island isn’t habited and the lighthouse is automatic. But, you CAN visit (it’s actually a hotspot for amateur radio explorers). If you do, you won’t find any border lines, just a bunch of holes drilled into the rock that outline the zig zags.
The islands shape gets beat up by the rough seas, so every 25 years Finland and Sweden return to resurvey and ensure the border is split evenly and nicely, no matter what origami animal it looks like!
Other Tiny Island Borders!
As I mentioned in the main story: despite Saint Martin’s advertising and some misreporting on Märket Island, there is more than one tiny island officially split by international borders in the world. Märket Island is certainly among the smallest (and definitely the strangest), but here’s some other very interesting ones too:
Koiluoto - apx. 5.5 acres, split bet. Finland & Russia: this is a nearby (on the world-scale scheme of things) island in the Gulf of Finland right off the coast and right off the terrestrial border between Finland and Russia. Because of the craggy geography of the coast here, there’s many small islands, rocks, skerries, islets, whatever you want to call them (see last post for all the different names you can call an island!). Koiluoto is perhaps the smallest one with the border running through it. As such, i also probably holds the title of world’s smallest island bisected by an international border. BUT, I’m not confident enough to say that it definitely is the smallest, because there are just so many little rocks out there!
Hans Island - apx. 1/2 square mile, split bet. Canada & Greenland: I wrote about Hans Island border dispute between about a year ago (it involves a lot of stealing liquor and planting flags). The following week (literally), the prime ministers of both countries (Canada & Denmark, as Greenland is a kingdom of Denmark, especially as it concerns foreign matters) announced that they had reached an agreement on how to split Hans Island after more than 50 years of stalemate. Ipso facto, I’d like to think my video about it spurred the necessary governments to act, though I have absolutely no evidence to prove it.
Saint Martin / Sint Maarten - 34 sq miles, split bet. Netherlands & France: This one usually gets the most press, and for good reason: it’s inhabited by about 70,000 people and visited often. Though it can’t claim the title of smallest island to be bisected by an international border, it CAN claim that it is the smallest inhabited island to be bisected by an international border. It has a population of just under 70,000 but hosts 2 million tourists annually. I’ve never been, but would love to!
What other tiny islands with International borders do you know? email me and we’ll add to the list! email@example.com
Extreme adventurers with radio skills
In researching about Märket Island, I found out that it’s a very popular destination among an elite set of amateur radio adventurer enthusiasts. Which clearly begged the question: what are amateur radio adventurer enthusiasts? And that brings me to the fascinating world of Amateur Radio DXing.
To be fair, I did know of this thing called DXing previously. It has come up several times in my research of remote places. That’s because DXers, like Map Nerds, are obsessed with finding the most unique and remote places in the world. But for DXers, there’s an extra twist: they hunt for the most unique and remote places that you can broadcast a radio signal from.
DXing has grown into a very popular, and intensive, hobby for amateur radio enthusiasts all over the world who aren’t content with broadcasting from their backyards. There are clubs, associations, and group trips called DXpeditions.
In the world of DXing, the literal world is divided into regions and “countries,” based on how difficult each is to reach and broadcast from. Many places are countries in DX lingo that aren’t actually countries, including yours truly Märket Island (but apparently only the Finnish side is its own DX “country.” I have no idea why they didn’t give the Swedish side the same honor).
DXers travel to, and attempt to broadcast a radio signal from, a unique place for other DXers from around the world (read: very far from where that unique place) to hear. If the broadcast is succesful, they gain recognition in the form of “QSL cards” which confirm a signal was sent and received from a specific place (in fact, I’ve come across lots of photos of people’s QSL cards online for many of the places I’ve covered, including the Russian who laid claim to the Bir Tawil Triangle). They also can accrue points or rank in competitions or DXing associations.
I can’t possibly cover everything about DXing here, but if this has got you curious to dig deeper, feel free!…
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