The Six Microstates of Oceania

April 19, 2018

70 islands, Palau, Oceania
Beautiful view of "70 islands" in Palau from above.

> Play a map quiz on the microstates of Oceania.

By overall area, the region of Oceania, comprising Australia, New Zealand, and dozens of Pacific island nations, covers a substantial proportion of the world. By population, however, it is the smallest world region by population, with only 40 million inhabitants. Only Antarctica, with no permanent resident population, is smaller.

Around 33 million of those inhabitants live in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand, while the remaining seven million are distributed among 13 island nations. Although Fiji and the Solomon Islands have sizable populations, the other island nations are among some of the sovereign states in the world.


At one point in the 1980s, Nauru, with a population of less than 10,000, had one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. This tiny island nation became one of the world’s leading producers of phosphate during the first half of the 20th century. With an area of only 21 square kilometers, however, the resources were completed stripped by the end of the century. With no natural resources or other viable industries, Nauru has attempted to gain revenue through other means, such as serving as an off-shore processing center for refugees and other immigrants hoping to gain admission to Australia.


Tuvalu has been an independent state within the British Commonwealth since 1978. With a population of just over 10,000, it is only slightly larger than Nauru, the smallest of the microstates of Oceania. Although the group of islands that now comprise Tuvalu has been populated for over 3,000 years, the Europeans did not encounter the islands until the late 16th century when Spanish explorers happened upon them. While the island nation may look like a paradise, a lack of fresh water and vulnerability to rising sea levels can make daily life difficult at times.


Sharing maritime boundaries with both Indonesia and the Philippines, Palau is larger and less remote when compared to Tuvalu and Nauru. The island nation came under the control of the United States in the aftermath of World War II, but has been fully sovereign since 1994. The country remains in a free association with the United States and continues to use the US dollar as its official currency.

Palau is a popular destination for divers who are attracted to its dozens of pristine islands and tremendous biodiversity. The seascape is so replete with marine life that it is known as the underwater Serengeti.

Marshall Islands

The United States occupied the collection of coral atolls known as the Marshall Islands 1944. By 1946, after the conclusion of World War II, the US military began conducting a series of nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll, which did not cease until 1958.

Full sovereignty was achieved in 1979, although the now independent country of 53,000 inhabitants remains in a free association with the United States. Unlike other pacific island nations, the Marshall Islands is made up entirely of circular coral atolls, explains why its land area is only 180 square kilometers.


Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass) is a series of islands and atolls spread out over an area of 3.5 million square kilometers. The expanse is so vast that Kiribati is officially on both sides of the equator and the International Date Line. The total land area, however, is only 811 square kilometers. Over half of the island nation’s 110,000 inhabitants live on Tarawa Atoll, although you have to be on the island of Kiritimati to be among the first in the world to see the sun rise on New Year’s Day.

Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia, or FSM as it is often called, is a sovereign nation consisting of four united states. When it gained its independence from the United States in 1986, FSM became one of the smallest independent countries in the world. The majority of the federation’s 100,000 people belong to the Chuukese ethnic group, although there are at least six other recognized ethnic groups.

There an estimated 607 islands that comprise FSM, spread out over a total area of 2.6 million square miles, making it one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world. The vast majority of that territory, however, is water.