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March 21, 2019. Life / Islands

Melanesia

Nicholas D. Holmes, Olivier Langrand, Russell A. Mittermeier, Anthony B. Rylands, Thomas Brooks, Dena R. Spatz, James C. Russell, Wes Sechrest, Federico Mendez Sanchez

Melanesia is the name for the islands of the Southwest Pacific, from New Guinea eastward and southward through the Bismarck Islands, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji, and New Caledonia. It lies on the Pacific Rim of Fire. It also has the richest biodiversity and by far the highest human ethnic and linguistic diversity of any island group on Earth.

New Guinea (785,000 km2) is the largest tropical island and the highest island. This very mountainous island is largely cloaked in equatorial forest and boasts the largest contiguous tract of old-growth humid forest in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Bismarck Archipelago, just east of New Guinea, includes New Britain (35,742 km2) and New Ireland (7,174 km2), the second and fourth largest islands in Melanesia. These are like small versions of New Guinea, but because of their oceanic isolation from the Australian plate, they are not nearly as biodiverse.

The Solomon Island chain lies southeast of the Bismarck Islands, and includes eight major islands and scores of smaller ones. Bougainville Island (9,318 km2) is the largest of the Solomons, with Guadalcanal (5,333 km2) the second largest. The islands of Bougainville and Buka in the north are politically part of the country of Papua New Guinea, as are New Britain and New Ireland. The other Solomons make up the country of Solomon Islands (28,400 km2).

Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides; 12,189 km2) is a mountainous island group much like the Solomons, but with smaller and lower islands, is famed for its ethnic and linguistic diversity.

New Caledonia, formerly a French overseas territory and now a “Special Collectivity”, is dominated by a single large mountainous island, Grande Terre (16,595 km2). Nearby are the affiliated Loyalty Islands, the Isle of Pines, and several other smaller island groups. New Caledonia is a fragment of the former continent of Gondwana, and, given its great age, is striking in its extremely high endemism of plants and animals.

Fiji is a group of volcanic, mountainous islands (18,300 km2) with considerable endemism. Ten of them are permanently inhabited. There are two main islands, Viti Levu (4,011 km2) and Vanua Levu (2,157 km2), and 328 lesser islands.

 

This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “Islands” (2018)

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