The Tuamotus, also referred to in English as the Tuamotu Archipelago or the Tuamotu Islands (French: Îles Tuamotu, officially Archipel des Tuamotu), are a French Polynesian chain of almost 80 islands and atolls forming the largest chain of atolls in the world. This archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean stretches from the northwest to the southeast over an area roughly the size of Western Europe. The total area of land within this chain is 850 square kilometres (328 square miles), with its major islands being Anaa, Fakarava, Hao and Makemo.
The Tuamotus are a French overseas collectivity. The people of Tahiti originally referred to the islands with the exonym of the Paumotus, which means the "Subservient Islands", until a delegation from the island convinced the French authorities to change it to Tuamotus, which means the "Distant Islands".
Flag of the Tuamotu Islands
|Major islands||Rangiroa, Anaa, Fakarava, Hao, Makemo|
|Area||850 km2 (330 sq mi)|
|Largest settlement||Rangiroa (pop. 2,709 (2017))|
|Pop. density||18 /km2 (47 /sq mi)|
French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous island group designated as an overseas country of France. The Tuamotus combine with the Gambier Islands to form the Îles Tuamotu-Gambier which is one of the five administrative divisions of French Polynesia.
The communes on Tuamotu are part of two different electoral districts (circonscriptions électorales) represented in the Assembly of French Polynesia. The Îles Gambier et Tuamotu Est electoral district comprises the commune of Gambier and eleven communes in eastern Tuamotu: Anaa; Fangatau; Hao; Hikueru; Makemo; Napuka; Nukutavake; Pukapuka; Reao; Tatakoto; and Tureia. The other five communes in western Tuamotu – Arutua; Fakarava; Manihi; Rangiroa; and Takaroa – form the Îles Tuamotu Ouest electoral district.
At the 2007 census, the Tuamotus (including the Gambier Islands) had a population of 18,317 inhabitants (15,862 in 2002, 8,100 in 1983). Of these, 769 inhabitants live in a 215-nautical-mile (400 km; 250 mi) radius around Mururoa and Fangataufa, the sites of former French nuclear tests.
The islands' economy is predominantly composed of subsistence agriculture. The most important sources of additional income are the cultivation of black pearls and the preparation of copra. Tourism-related income remains meager, especially by comparison to the tourism industry of the neighboring Society Islands. Modest tourism infrastructure is found on the atolls of Rangiroa and Manihi which have recreational 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 catchments of rain as the only source of fresh 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 of September and November.
Geological stability of the archipelago is high, as it was created by the weakly active Easter Fracture Zone. No volcanic eruptions have been recorded historically.
The sparse soil of the coral islands does not permit 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 a 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 species-rich reefs are home to a diverse range of underwater fauna. Surface creatures are primarily seabirds, insects, and lizards. The Tuamotus have only 57 species of birds, but ten of these are endemic, including the Tuamotu kingfisher, the Tuamotu reed warbler, and the Tuamotu sandpiper. Thirteen species are globally threatened and one is extinct.
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.
In the northwest of the archipelago, the ring-shaped atoll Taiaro provides a rare example of a coral reef with a fully enclosed lagoon. The atoll was officially designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1977.
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. 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.
European encounters with the Tuamotus began with that of Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan, during his circumglobal voyage in 1521 sailing in the service of the Spanish Crown. His visit was followed by:
It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the first Christian missionaries arrived. Traders took the islands' pearls to the European markets by the late 19th century, making them coveted possessions. France forced the abdication of King Pōmare V of Tahiti and claimed the islands without ever having formally annexed them.
Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Stevenson travelled among the Paumotus on the Yacht Casco in 1888; an account of their journey was published as In the South Seas. Jack London wrote a story, "The Seed of McCoy", based on an incident in 1900 when a burning ship, the Pyrenees, was safely beached on Mangareva. In the story, London has the ship sail past Mangareva and all through the Tuamotus before beaching on Fakarava.
The Tuamotus made headlines around the world in 1947, when Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, sailing from South America with a crew of five others, reached Raroia on his raft Kon-Tiki. More recently the islands have been the subject of headlines as the site of French nuclear weapons testing on the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa.
The Tuamotu archipelago consists of eight groups of small islands and atolls:
Far East Tuamotu Group
Related island groups include:
Fangataufa (or Fangatafoa) is a small, low, narrow, coral atoll in the eastern side of the Tuamotu Archipelago. It was formerly known as Cockburn Island. Along with its neighboring atoll, Moruroa, it has been the site of approximately 200 nuclear bomb tests.King George Islands
The King George Islands (Îles du Roi Georges) is a subgroup of the Tuamotus Archipelago group in French Polynesia.
The King George Islands include four atolls and one island:
Tikei IslandTikei is the easternmost island and Ahe Atoll is the westernmost of the subgroup. The distance between them is 200 km (124 mi). Unlike the atolls of the Palliser group that form a spindle from the northwest to the southeast, the King George Islands follow a mirror image pattern of grouping from southwest to the northeast.Makatea
Makatea, or Mangaia-te-vai-tamae, is a raised coral atoll in the northwestern part of the Tuamotus, which is a part of the French overseas collectivity of French Polynesia. It is located 79 kilometres (49 mi) southwest from Rangiroa to the west of the Palliser group, which also is in French Polynesia. Makatea is surrounded by spectacular cliffs, rising to a plateau 80 metres (260 ft) above sea level. This island is 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) long, with a maximum width of 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) in the south. It is 24 square kilometres (9.3 sq mi) in area. Makatea is one of the only four islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago (along with Nukutavake, Tikei, and Tepoto Nord) that do not take the form of a typical atoll.Marokau
Marokau is an atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. It lies 53 km southeast of Hikueru Atoll and it is separated by a 2 km wide sound from Ravahere, its closest neighbor in the south.
Marokau and Ravahere form a minor subgroup of the Tuamotus known as the Two Groups Islands.
Marokau Atoll is roughly triangular. The islands on its reef have a combined land area of 14.7 km². The shallow lagoon has a surface of 215.6 km².Marokau has 91 inhabitants. Most live in Vaiori, the main village, located on an island at its northern end. The locals collect copra from the numerous coconut palms planted on the islands and motus. There is another small village called Topitike in its south-eastern corner.Mataiva
Mataiva (meaning "Nine Eyes" in Tuamotuan), Tepoetiriura ("Sparkling Pearl") or Lazarev atoll is a coral atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago. It is located in the Palliser group, and is the westernmost of the Tuamotus. The nearest atoll, Tikehau, is located 35 km to the east. Rangiroa is located 79 km to the east, and Tahiti is 311 km to the south.Morane (French Polynesia)
Morane is an uninhabited small isolated atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. It is located 153 km southwest of Maria Est, its closest neighbour. Morane Atoll is the southernmost atoll of the Tuamotus proper. It measures 5.8 km in length, 3.5 km in width and has a land area of 2.85 km2. The lagoon has an area of 11 km2 and has no passes.
The islands on its reef are covered with screw pine (Pandanus) and coconut trees.Nihiru
Nihiru, or Nikia, is one of the Tuamotu atolls in French Polynesia. It is a relatively small atoll located 49 km to the east of Makemo Atoll and 30 km northeast of Marutea Atoll.
Nihiru Atoll is roughly triangular in shape. It measures 14 km in length with a maximum width of 10.5 km. Its lagoon has an area of 79 km².
Nihiru had 11 inhabitants in 2012, most of whom originated from Taenga.Pinaki (French Polynesia)
'Pinaki,'Te Kiekie or Artomix is a small atoll of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. Geographically Pinaki Atoll is part of the East-central subgroup of the Tuamotus, which includes Ahunui, Amanu, Fangatau, Hao and Nukutavake.Raraka
Raraka, or Te Marie, is an atoll in the west of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. It lies 17 km to the southeast of Kauehi Atoll.
The shape of Raraka Atoll is an oval 27 km long and 19 km wide. Its fringing reef has many sandbanks and small motu (islets). This atoll has a wide lagoon with a navigable pass to the ocean.
Raraka Atoll is now uninhabited, but it is occasionally visited by islanders from neighboring atolls. There is a village called Motupapu.
Raraka Atoll in the Tuamotus should not be confused with Raraka in Malaita, Solomon Islands 09°11′S 161°01′W.Raroia
Raroia, or Raro-nuku, is an atoll of the Tuamotus chain in French Polynesia, located 740 km northeast of Tahiti and 6 km southwest of Takume. Administratively it is a part of the commune of Makemo.
The oval-shaped atoll measures 43 km by 14 km and has a land area of 41 km². A navigable waterway leads to the central lagoon, which has an area of 359 km². The population as of the 2012 census was 233. The town of Garumaoa is the main settlement. Raroians live principally on fishing, copra cultivation, and pearl farming.Ravahere
Ravahere is an atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. It is located 53 km northwest of Nengonengo Atoll and it is separated by a 2 km sound from Marokau Atoll, its closest neighbor to the north.
Marokau and Ravahere form a minor subgroup of the Tuamotus known as the Two Groups Islands.
Ravahere Atoll is roughly boomerang-shaped. It measures 20 km in length with a maximum width of 9.5 km. The shallow lagoon has a surface area of 57.5 km², but there is no pass to enter it.
Ravahere is permanently uninhabited.Reitoru
Reitoru, or Te Pirehi, is a small atoll of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. It is located in center of the archipelago, 50 km southwest of Hikueru.
The inner lagoon is closed and is inaccessible from the ocean. The total surface area is 1.39 km². The island is inhabited by a small number of people who live by farming pearls and gathering copra.Takume
Takume or Pukamaru is an atoll of the Tuamotus chain in French Polynesia, located 790 km northeast of Tahiti and 6 km northeast of Raroia and 128 kilometres (80 miles) to the west of Fangatau.
This elongated atoll measures 24 by 5 kilometres (15 by 3 miles). Its lagoon has an area of 43.5 square kilometres (16.8 square miles)
Takume has many small motus on its reef; most are located on its eastern fringes. The long and deep lagoon has one navigable pass to enter it.
Takume Atoll has 116 inhabitants. The main village is Ohomo.Tekokota
Tekokota is one of the Central Tuamotu atolls, located close to the geographic center of the archipelago.
Tekokota Atoll is one of the smallest atolls of the Tuamotus. Its islands have a total land mass of only 0.9 square kilometres (0.3 square miles).
Tekokota's shape is roughly oval and it is 5 kilometres (3 miles) in length and 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) in width.
The western side of Tekokota Atoll is submerged. The surface of its shallow central lagoon is 5.1 square kilometres (2.0 square miles).
Tekokota Atoll is uninhabited. The closest land to Tekokota is Hikueru Atoll, located 22 km to the south.Tikehau
Tikehau (meaning Peaceful Landing in Tuamotuan) or Porutu-kai is a coral atoll in the Palliser Islands group, part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia. It is included in the commune of Rangiroa.Tikei
Tikei, also known as Manu, Tikai and Tiku is an island in the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. Tikei is not a typical Tuamotu atoll, but a separate island. The island is 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) long, 1.6 kilometres (1.0 mile) wide, and has a land area of 4 square kilometres (1.5 square miles). Its highest elevation is 3 metres (9.8 feet) above sea levelGeographically Tikei is part of the King George Islands (Îles du Roi Georges) subgroup, which includes Ahe, Manihi, Takapoto, Takaroa and Tikei.
Tikei is uninhabited. There used to be human habitation and the main village was called Tereporepo. The closest land is Takapoto Atoll, located 73 km to the Northwest. Tikei Island has been poorly researched.Toau
Toau, Pakuria, or Taha-a-titi is a coral atoll in French Polynesia, one of the Palliser Islands (Îles Pallisier). Toau has a wide lagoon; length 35 kilometres (22 miles), width 18 kilometres (11 miles). The nearest land is Fakarava Atoll, located 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) to the southeast.
Toau Atoll had a population of 18 in 2012. The main village is called Maragai.Vairaatea
Vairaatea is a small atoll of the Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. Geographically Vairaatea Atoll is part of the East-central subgroup of the Tuamotus, which includes Ahunui, Amanu, Fangatau, Hao and Nukutavake. Nukutavake, the closest land, lies 38 kilometres (24 miles) to the east.
Vairaatea Atoll measures 8 kilometres (5 miles) in length and its width is about 4 kilometres (2 miles). Its reef has a roughly triangular shape. There are two long islands on it. The reef completely encloses a 13-square-kilometre (5-square-mile) lagoon. Landing on this atoll is difficult on account of the surf and the lack of a safe anchorage.
In 1989 Vairaatea was inhabited by eight families living in a village at the northern end of Puka Runga, the only inhabited island. According to the 2012 census, there were 57 people living in Vairaatea, a drop from 70 in 1996.