How many continents are there? Well, it kinda depends on who you ask. The standard answer in English textbooks is seven - Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, South America, North America, and Australia. Sometimes, for some reason, in South America, the Americas (North and South America) are taught as a single continent. India, on the other hand, is often described as a "subcontinent."

But now some scientists are saying there is an eighth continent that took 375 years to find. It was hard to find because 94% of it is submerged. This new kid on the continental block is called Zealandia. And there are no points for guessing its principle landmasses above water - New Zealand.


Definition of a Continent And Case For Zealandia

The initial suggestion by scientists that Zealandia should be considered a continent came in 2017. It was suggested in a paper published in the Geological Society of America's Journal. This was mostly backed by New Zealand, Australian, and New Caledonian scientists. In 2021 even more was learned about this lost continent.

  • First Proposed: 2017

Many people will think how can a continent be a continent if it is underwater - isn't the definition of a continent that it is a massive landmass above water? Well not necessarily. It depends on the criteria one uses and, importantly, if it is made of continental crust.

That is why Greenland is part of the North American continent and New Guinea part of Australia - they are on the same continental crust. North and South America on the other hand are separate landmasses that happened to bump into each other. According to the BBC the criteria used are:

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  • elevation above the surrounding area
  • distinctive geology
  • a well-defined area
  • a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor

And based on that set of criteria, Zealandia ticks all the boxes. The main author of the initial article was New Zealand geologist Nick Mortimer.

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"The scientific value of classifying Zealandia as a continent is much more than just an extra name on a list... That a continent can be so submerged yet unfragmented... (it is useful for) exploring the cohesion and breakup of continental crust"

Related: 20 Photos Highlighting Why New Zealand Is One Of The Most Beautiful Places On Earth

About Zealandia & Opinions On It

Zealandia is an almost entirely submerged mass of continental crust. It subsided after breaking away from the supercontinent, Gondwanaland some 83 to 79 million years ago. It is thought that around 23 million years ago Zealandia may have been completely submerged. Perhaps this is why today there are no snakes in New Zealand - unlike Australia which is famous (infamous) for its extremely venomous snakes.

Broke Way: From Gondwanaland 83 to 79 Million Years Ago

Today there are differing opinions about it - is it a submerged continent, a continental fragment, a microcontinent, or just a continent? It has been contended that if it had not been for the ocean level, it would have been seen as a continent long ago.

Descriptions of Zealandia:

  • Submerged Continent
  • Continental Fragment/Microcontinent
  • Continent

But there is no scientific body that formally recognizes continents - recognition is more just by consensus. But perhaps the consensus will continue to drift toward welcoming the eighth continent. It may be like how Pluto got kicked off the list of planets and school textbooks had to be written.

Related: Here's How The Diversity Of Auckland, New Zealand Won It The 'Best City To Visit' In 2022

The Size of Zealandia

Zealandia has now been shown to be nearly the size of Australia - only most of it is underwater. It is also about twice as old as geologists had previously thought. While some term it a microcontinent, it is around 6 times larger than the next largest "microcontinent" of Madagascar. It is also larger than the Indian Subcontinent.

  • 6x Larger: Than The Next Largest "Microcontinent of Madagascar
  • Submerged: Around 94% of Zealandia is Submerged
  • Main Landmasses: New Zealand and New Caledonia - Main Bits Poking Above The Water

Today around 94% of the landmass of the continent is underwater. The largest parts of the continent still poking above the surface are New Zealand, New Caledonia

  • Size: Around 4,900,000 km2 or 1,900,000 sq miles

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It is another example of how New Zealand and Australia are completely different countries. Most people think they are close - even though they are around 1300 miles or 2,000 km from each other (about the distance from London to St. Petersburg).

So for all people out there who claim to have visited all the world's continents, the question is, did they skip out on New Zealand (or New Calendonia) while in Australia?

It just goes to show how science is always progressing and making new discoveries - even things as seemingly obvious as continents!

One can read more on the Geological Society of America and its paper entitled "Zealandia: Earth’s Hidden Continent".

Next: How To Visit And What To Expect From For Forgotten Island Paradise Of New Caledonia