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The Tuamotus are the largest chain of atolls in the world, spanning an area of the Pacific Ocean roughly the size of Western Europe.
Together with the Gambier Islands, the Tuamotus form a primary administrative division of French Polynesia
At the 2002 census, the Tuamotus (including the Gambier Islands) had a population of 15,862 inhabitants.
Only 769 inhabitants live in a 400 kilometer (250 mile) radius around Moruroa and Fangataufa, the sites of the French nuclear tests.
The language spoken in the Tuamotus is Tuamotuan , a collection of Polynesian dialects, except for in Puka-Puka and the Gambier Islands, where Puka-Pukan and Mangarevan are spoken, respectively.
Today the most important source of income in the Tuamotus is from the cultivation of black pearls and the preparation of copra. Agriculture in the islands is predominantly subsistence in nature.
Tourism-related income remains meager, especially by comparison to the tourism industry of the neighboring Society Islands. A modest tourism infrastructure is found on the atolls of Rangiroa and Manihi, two favorite scuba-diving and snorkeling destinations.
Despite the vast spread of the archipelago, it covers a total land area of only about 885 km² (345 sq. mi.).
The climate is warm tropical, without pronounced seasons. The annual average temperature is a relatively continuous 26°C (79°F). Water sources such as lakes or rivers are absent, leaving the only source of fresh water as catchments of rain water. The annual average rainfall is 1400 mm (about 55 in.). Rainfall is not markedly different throughout the year, although it is lowest during the months between September and November.
The group encompasses 78 coral atolls and islands, including:
Several of the atolls are grouped together and known by group names:
Acteon Group (Groupe Actéon)
Duke of Gloucester Islands (Îles du Duc de Gloucester)
King George Islands (Îles du Roi Georges)
Palliser Islands (Îles Palliser)
- Numerous atolls comprising the northwestern Tuamotus, including Mataiva
Raeffsky Islands (Îles Raéffsky)
- Numerous atolls in the central Tuamotus, including Tepoto
Other Islands and Atolls
Flora and Fauna
The sparse soil of the coral islands does not permit a diverse vegetation. The coconut palm, which forms the basis for copra production, is of special economic importance. On a few islands, vanilla is also cultivated. Agriculture is generally otherwise limited to simple subsistence.
Fruit and vegetable staples include yams, taro, and breadfruit, as well as a wide range of other tropical fruits.
Pandanus leaves are traditionally woven together as roof thatch (although nowadays there are a great number of corrugated sheet-metal roofs instead), as well as for other items, such as mats and hats.
The animal life on the islands is limited to primarily birds (mostly seabirds), insects and lizards. The underwater fauna however, is diverse. The beautiful and species-rich reefs make the Tuamotus one of the most scenic scuba-diving destinations in the world.
All of the islands of the Tuamotus are coral "low islands": essentially high sand bars built upon coral reefs.
Makatea , southwest of the Palliser Islands, is one of three great phosphate rocks in the Pacific Ocean. The others are Banaba in Kiribati, and the island nation of Nauru.
Although geographically part of the Tuamotus, the Gambier Islands, at the southeastern extreme of the archipelago, are geologically and culturally distinct.
The early history of the Tuamotu islands is generally shrouded in mystery. Archaeological findings lead to the conclusion that the western Tuamotus were settled from the Society Islands by c. 700 A.D. On the islands of Rangiroa, Manihi and Mataiva, there are flat ceremonial platforms (called marae) made of coral blocks, although their exact age is unknown.
The Tuamotus were first "discovered" for Europeans by the navigator Ferdinand Magellan, during his circumglobal voyage in 1521. His visit was followed by:
None of these visits were of political consequence, the islands being in the sphere of influence of the Pomare dynasty of Tahiti.
At the beginning 18th century the first Christian missionaries arrived. The islands' pearls penetrated the European market in the late 1800s, making them a coveted possession. Following the forced abdication of King Pomare V of Tahiti, the islands were annexed as an overseas territory of France.
The Tuamotus made headlines around the world in 1947, when archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, sailing from South America reached Raroia on his raft, Kon-Tiki.
More recently the islands have made headlines for a darker reason: French nuclear weapons testing on the atolls of Mururoa (sometimes called also Moruroa) and Fangataufa.
Last updated: 08-26-2005 00:26:16