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The Natural Environment

Surrounding Waters and Islands

Asia is bounded on three sides by oceans: the Arctic to the north, the Pacific to the east, and the Indian to the south. Many seas, bays, and gulfs indent the continent’s coastline, which is 62,000 km (39,000 mi) long.

The most prominent seas along the northeastern rim of Asia are the Bering Sea in the far north between Asia and North America; the Sea of Okhotsk, located west of the Kamchatka Peninsula and north of the Kuril Islands; the Sea of Japan (East Sea), which fills the gap between Japan and the Asian mainland; and the Yellow Sea, situated between China and Korea. The Kuril Islands, Japan’s major islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu and Taiwan run along a thread from north to south.

The South China Sea lies adjacent to Southeast Asia, linking mainland countries to the Philippines and Indonesia. The Gulf of Tonkin sits between Vietnam and China’s Hainan Island, while the narrow Strait of Malacca separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra from the Malay Peninsula. Java Island lies across the Java Sea from Borneo, the world’s third largest island after Greenland and New Guinea. To the southeast is the Timor Sea separating the Asian island of Timor from the Australian continent.

The Indian subcontinent is flanked by the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. The island of Sri Lanka and the much smaller Maldives and Nicobar Islands trail away to the south.

The Arabian Sea’s Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea form an arc along the western rim of Asia, providing natural boundaries with Africa and Europe. The Suez Canal, an artificial waterway excavated in the mid-19th century, provides a passage for ships between the Mediterranean and Red seas. The Persian Gulf provides Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait access to the Arabian Sea.

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