French Polynesia, Land and Resources
catchment systems, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, coral atolls, Society Islands
French Polynesia consists of 35 volcanic islands and more than 180 low-lying coral atolls (ring-shaped islands with central lagoons) with a combined land area of 3,660 sq km (1,413 sq mi). The islands are part of a much larger area known as an “exclusive economic zone” that covers 5 million sq km (2 million sq mi) of land and ocean. The French government has control over fishing, scientific research, and environmental protection in that area.
The islands of French Polynesia are divided into five archipelagos: the Society Islands (which include Tahiti), the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands, and the Austral Islands. The Tuamotu Archipelago consists entirely of coral atolls and accounts for more than half of the territory’s islands. The other groups contain a few atolls but are primarily volcanic islands. Mount Orohena on Tahiti is the highest peak in French Polynesia, with an elevation of 2,241 m (7,352 ft).
The vegetation of the high-elevation volcanic islands differs from that of the low-lying coral atolls. The high islands have rich soils and support a variety of plant species. Atolls have poor soils and less vegetation. Rain collected in catchment systems is the only source of fresh water on the atolls. Coconut palms thrive throughout the territory, and the liquid from coconuts is a life-sustaining drink. Wildlife on the islands is limited to birds, insects, and lizards. On some of the high islands residents maintain livestock, including pigs and chickens. Marine life is abundant in the surrounding waters and provides an important food source.
French Polynesia has a tropical but moderate climate, with an average temperature of 27? C (81? F). There are two distinct seasons: a warm rainy season from November to April and a cool dry season from May to October. The amount of rainfall varies greatly throughout the territory. The Marquesas Islands are the driest, and the Austral Islands are the wettest. Cyclones occur throughout the territory but with less frequency than elsewhere in the South Pacific.
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