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Vanuatu, Land and Resources

The islands of Vanuatu extend about 800 km (about 500 mi) from north to south and about one-quarter of that distance from east to west. They lie in a Y-shaped configuration that tilts in a northwest to southeast direction. Total land area is 12,190 sq km (4,707 sq mi). About 70 of the islands are inhabited. The largest island, Espiritu Santo, has a land area of 4,856 sq km (1,875 sq mi); other principal islands include Malakula, Efate, Erromango, and Ambrym. Vanuatu's exclusive economic zone—that is, the area of the ocean in which it controls fishing and other rights—covers about 1.8 million sq km (about 700,000 sq mi).

Most of Vanuatu’s islands are peaks of volcanic mountain ranges that rise from the ocean floor; several of the volcanoes are active, including Mount Yasur on the island of Tanna. The highest peak, Mount Tabwemasana on Espiritu Santo, rises to an elevation of 1,879 m (6,165 ft). Many of the islands have narrow coastal plain regions with relatively rich soils that support a variety of agricultural crops. Forests cover a large portion of the land. Two small rivers drain Espiritu Santo and smaller streams flow on some other islands.

Vanuatu has a tropical, humid climate. Trade winds moderate the climate between May and October, producing a slightly drier, cooler season than during the rest of the year. Winds vary considerably during the warmer season, causing occasional cyclones between December and April. A major cyclone ravaged Vanuatu in February 1987, destroying numerous buildings and ships. Average daily temperatures range from 22° to 27° C (72° to 81° F). Rainfall averages about 2,300 mm (about 90 in) in the southern islands and about 3,900 mm (about 154 in) in the northern islands.

Vanuatu supports more than 1,000 species of vegetation, including coconut palms, banyan trees, orchids, and ferns. Small reptiles, bats, and rats inhabit the islands, along with numerous varieties of birds, such as pigeons, parrots, and thrushes. Varied sea animals thrive in the surrounding waters, including bonito, tuna, swordfish, dolphins, sharks, crabs, and corals. Efate contains manganese deposits, which were mined in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1994 a geophysical survey identified possible gold and copper deposits on Malakula and Espiritu Santo.


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