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May 31, 2019. Life / Islands

Polynesia and Micronesia

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

Scattered across the vast Pacific Ocean, the islands of Micronesia and Polynesia were among the last places on Earth to be colonized. The first inhabitants of Micronesia and Polynesia arrived over 3,000 years ago, Hawaii being one of the last to be inhabited after the 10th century.

As indicated by their name “micro,” the more than 2,000 islands in Micronesia tend to be small, among the main ones are: Palau (459 km2) composed of 340 islands; The Northern Marianas that are made up of 15 main islands (464 km2); and Guam (544 km2).

South of the Equator, reflecting its name “poly” (Greek for “many” or “much”), are the more than 1,000 islands of Polynesia, scattered in an area equivalent to Europe and the Middle East combined and are divided into western and eastern Polynesia.  In western Polynesia are  located: the independent nation of Tuvalu (26 km2); The Wallis and Futuna Islands (142 km2); The Kingdom of Tonga formed by 169 islands (748 km2); The Samoan Islands, which include the independent state of Samoa (2,842 km2); and the neighbor territory of American Samoa (199 km2).  In eastern Polynesia lie: The Cook Islands, a self-governing country of 15 islands (240 km2); and The French Polynesia, composed of 118 widely dispersed islands and atolls (3,521 km2).

In the northernmost portion of Polynesia is Hawaii (28,311 km2) and today is composed of nine smaller islands and eight main islands. The eight main islands are —in order from northwest to southeast—: Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi. The last is the largest island in the group; it is often called the “Big Island” or “Hawaiʻi Island” to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago.


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

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