Cook Islands, Land and Resources
The 15 islands of the Cook group have a total land area of 230 sq km (90 sq mi). From north to south, the islands are spread over 1,400 km (900 mi); the east to west extent is about half that distance. The islands’ exclusive economic zone—the area in which it has jurisdiction over resources, scientific research, and environmental protection—covers an ocean area of 2,200,000 sq km (850,000 sq mi).
The islands are divided into northern and southern groups. Six thinly populated atolls (ring-shaped coral islands) make up the Northern Group. The Southern Group islands, aside from two small atolls with no permanent inhabitants, are predominantly volcanic. Rarotonga, with an area of 67 sq km (26 sq mi), is the largest island. Located on Rarotonga, Te Manga is the highest peak at 652 m (2,139 ft).
Vegetation on the Cook Islands varies greatly between the high volcanic islands and the low atolls. The coconut palm flourishes nearly everywhere. The rich soils and freshwater sources of the volcanic islands also support a variety of tree species, including casuarina, hibiscus, frangipani, poinciana, and bougainvillea. In contrast, poor soils restrict vegetation on the atolls, where the sole source of fresh water is rainfall collected in catchment systems.
Wildlife on the Cook Islands is limited to lizards and birds. A few livestock species, such as pigs and chickens, are raised for food. Marine life is abundant in the surrounding waters.
The climate is tropical, with high humidity and a mean annual temperature of 24? C (75? F) on Rarotonga. The Cook Islands lie within the cyclone belt, and occasional storms can be destructive.