Photos of Spratly Islands

Satellite view of the western Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea shows the location of the Spratly Islands between Vietnam and the Philippines. Image courtesy of NASA.



The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds -- and potentially by gas and oil deposits. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim the islands in their entirety, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Since 1985, Brunei has claimed a continental shelf that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim to the reef. Brunei claims an exclusive economic zone over this area.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Southeastern Asia, group of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, about two-thirds of the way from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines

Geographic coordinates

8 38 N, 111 55 E

Map references

Southeast Asia


total: 5 sq km less than

land: 5 sq km less than

water: 0 sq km

note: includes 100 or so islets, coral reefs, and sea mounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km (158,000 sq mi) of the central South China Sea

comparison ranking: total 249

Area - comparative

land area is about seven times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


926 km




small, flat islands, islets, cays, and reefs


highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay 6 m

lowest point: South China Sea 0 m

Natural resources

fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential

Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Natural hazards

typhoons; numerous reefs and shoals pose a serious maritime hazard

Geography - note

strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea; includes numerous small islands, atolls, shoals, and coral reefs

People and Society


total: (July 2021 est.) no indigenous inhabitants

note: scattered garrisons are occupied by military personnel of several claimant states


Environment - current issues

China's use of dredged sand and coral to build artificial islands harms reef systems; illegal fishing practices indiscriminately harvest endangered species, including sea turtles and giant clams



Land use

other: 100% (2018 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Spratly Islands

etymology: named after a British whaling captain Richard SPRATLY, who sighted Spratly Island in 1843; the name of the island eventually passed to the entire archipelago

Military and Security

Military - note

the Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs of which about 45 are claimed and occupied by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam

China: occupies seven outposts (Fiery Cross, Mischief, Subi, Cuarteron, Gavin, Hughes, and Johnson reefs); the outposts on Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi include air bases with helipads and aircraft hangers, naval port facilities, surveillance radars, air defense and anti-ship missile sites, and other military infrastructure such as communications, barracks, maintenance facilities, and ammunition and fuel bunkers

Malaysia:  occupies five outposts in the southern portion of the archipelago, closest to the Malaysian state of Sabah (Ardasier Reef, Eric Reef, Mariveles Reef, Shallow Reef, and Investigator Shoal); all the outposts have helicopter landing pads, while Shallow Reef also has an airstrip

occupies nine features (Commodore Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Flat Island, Loaita Cay, Loaita Island, Nanshan Island, Northeast Cay, Thitu Island, and West York Island); Thitu Island has an airstrip and a coast guard station

Taiwan: maintains a coast guard outpost with an airstrip on Itu Aba Island

Vietnam: occupies about 50 outposts, plus some 14 platforms known as “economic, scientific, and technological service stations” (Dịch vụ-Khoa) that sit on underwater banks to the southeast that Vietnam does not consider part of the disputed island chain, although China and Taiwan disagree; Spratly Islands outposts are on Alison Reef, Amboyna Cay, Barque Canada Reef, Central Reef, Collins Reef, Cornwallis South Reef, Discovery Great Reef, East Reef, Grierson Reef, Ladd Reef, Landsdowne Reef, Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, Petley Reef, Sand Cay, Sin Cowe Island, South Reef, Southwest Cay, Spratly Island, Tennent Reef, West Reef; the underwater banks with stations include Vanguard, Rifleman, Prince of Wales, Prince Consort, Grainger, and Alexandra; over the past few years, Vietnam has continued to make improvements to its outposts, including defensive positions and infrastructure (2023)