I have a "water bodies" shapefile. Technically there is no land to the shapefile, nonetheless the effect of visible land is produced (everything that isn't ocean). Problem is, because it is a "water bodies" shapefile it also includes lakes, which essentially appear as 'orphaned' polygons outside the larger ocean.

What is the simplest way to produce a shapefile where all lakes are eliminated? (See screen shot below) I should also say I'm using ArcMap 10.2.

enter image description here

  • 3
    Is the oceans one polygon? If so open in ArcMap, select the ocean, export to oceans shapefile, switch selection then export to lakes shapefile (you might need these later). Oct 19, 2017 at 23:03
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    It might be multipart polygon, if so use multipart to single part tool or editing toolbar to explode.
    – FelixIP
    Oct 19, 2017 at 23:26
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    Can you filter based on area size? Oct 19, 2017 at 23:36
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    That's another good idea @LennertDeFeyter, but first, being a shapefile, you would need to add a field to store geometry area and calculate field !shape.area! (be sure to use python or python 9.3 and not VB). Oct 19, 2017 at 23:40
  • What is the attribute table like for the waterbodies data? Is there a descriptive attribute where you could symbolize by category but only categorize ocean polygons?
    – Liam G
    Oct 20, 2017 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


In my case the solution was to Select by attribute based on a column in the attribute table "Surface Area". My map was actually broken up by lines of lat and lon, which meant the ocean was not one contiguous polygon. This complicated things a bit because some of the ocean polygons were bisected by the lines (they were tiny pieces near land) making them actually smaller than some lakes. Nonetheless, a bit of careful eye work around the map and using the Select tool, to unselect those tiny pieces of ocean before deleting the rest (mainland lakes - again based on selecting by surface area), eventually got the result I wanted.

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