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The islands of the Pacific are often classified according to their altitudes as high or low islands.


The larger islands, typically continental and oceanic islands, have narrow coastal plains with spectacular volcanic mountains and plateaus rising abruptly from the coast. The highest of these are in New Guinea, Hawaii, and New Zealand. Although New Guinea lies just south of the equator, it has snowcapped peaks. The highest peak is Puncak Jaya in Indonesiaís province of Papua, at 5,030 m (16,503 ft). New Zealandís North and South islands have more than 200 mountains higher than 2300 m (7500 ft). Rivers on these larger islands flow rapidly from the rugged mountain interiors to the sea, carrying sediments that form large river basins and deltas. The basins and deltas are fertile farmlands that can play an important role in the islandís economy. Such rivers include the Fly in Papua New Guinea and the Rewa and Sigatoka on Fijiís Viti Levu Island. By contrast, coral atolls have no rivers.

Soils and Vegetation

The vegetation of the Pacific Islands varies by island type. The continental islands have vegetation typical of tropical climates: Mangrove forests rim the island, further inland lie nipa and other palms, and the interior is typically rain forest or monsoon forest. At higher elevations are temperate forests, including pine trees. The highest elevations of New Guinea even have alpine forests. In some areas of continental islands and larger volcanic islands, soil fertility can be high, especially in river basins and deltas.

Soils on coral atolls are thin, sandy, and much less fertile. Sparse vegetation consists of shrubs, small trees, grasses, and the very common coconut palm. However, on low islands that receive heavier rainfall, some forests exist. As with other islands, mangroves and other salt-tolerant plants line the coasts of atolls.

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