Thursday, May 11, 2017

French Polynesia

I thought it might be nice to do a little history/geography blog on French Polynesia. I learned quite a bit in the process of researching our surroundings, so I want to share that with you. 
(This one's for you, dad!) 

The islands of French Polynesia are emerged underwater volcanoes from hot spots that correspond with north-south dorsals of tectonic plates below in the South Pacific Ocean. There are 5 Archipelagos that make up French Polynesia:  Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu archipelago, Gambier Islands, Society Archipelago (Tahiti and surrounding islands), and the Austral Islands.

The Islands drift westward 10 cm per year and gradually sink into the ocean floor, and the coral surrounding the islands becomes a reef crown around it. 

Over time, the sea fills in around the island as it moves westward, creating a lagoon which becomes larger as the island sinks. Ultimately, the island will disappear and become just a lagoon and the reef crown, which is called an atoll.

The Polynesian Triangle, including French Polynesia, is formed geographically by the connection of three apex points of Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand.

There are distinct similarities between these islands geographically, including the naming of bays as well as the Polynesian customs. A strong tribal connection remains today between the Marquesan people and those in the Polynesian Triangle.

The Marquesan Islands, where we are now, are the youngest of the Polynesian Islands. The Society Islands (Tahiti and neighboring islands) with large lagoons are the oldest.  In between these Islands lie the atolls or the Tuamotus.

The Marquesas Islands have 5 primary Islands: Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Hiva Oa, and Fatu Hiva.  They were discovered in 1595 by Alvaro Medaña de Neira with Captain Quiros. They first sighted Fatu Hiva. Captain James Cook was the first to discover the southern Islands in 1774.

The Tuamotus will be next on our tour, and we are likely to only visit a handful of the 76 Islands. Because these are atolls surrounded by a crown of coral reefs, approaching them by boat can be dangerous. Quiros was the first to discover the atolls in 1605. 

 Interestingly, from 1963-1996 the French government used the eastern Tuamotus as a site for nuclear testing. 

The Tuamotus are popular because of their clear water, plentiful sea life, a myriad of coral reefs, and pearl farms famous for the black pearls. I promise to highlight all of these in future blogs when we are enjoying the Tuamotu Islands.

The Society Archipelago will be our last stop in French Polynesia. The Islands extend 400 NM over western French Polynesia. It is the center of French Polynesia as well as the most populated. We will likely only go to the leeward Islands shown below.

Hope it was an interesting read!

First Mate Kate


Bonnette P, Deschamps E. (2001)."Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia" L'Imprimerie A. Barthélémy. 

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