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Articles Blog

South Sea Islands

Karyn Planett

What’s Not to Like?

We have all stood and stared at those slick photos of the sugar-fine sandy beaches lapped by a transparent surf that’s shaded by a slender, gently-swaying palm with the tanned couple in the tinier-than-a-handkerchief swimsuits smooching while backlit by a setting sun.

Wanna be there?  Wanna be them?

Well, The World is certainly going to facilitate the first of these two lofty goals.  You, my friend, are completely on your own with the latter.  That, you know darn well, requires some serious time in the gym, no juicy burgers and salted fries at the pool bar, and about a trillion laps around Deck 12.

I think I have to take a nap.

Naming Names

Islands in the Pacific South Seas are clustered into three major groups.  Polynesia, the largest of the three, covers an area from New Zealand all the way to Hawaii.  Within this massive grouping are seventeen smaller ones that include the Society Islands, Samoa, and Tonga.

Micronesia is the second of the three groups.  It may be less well known because many of its islands are uninhabited.  The names within this grouping that you may recognize are the Mariana Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Caroline Islands.

The last of our three groups of islands is Melanesia.  Here, you’ll find the popular Fiji Islands, the historic Solomons, and the fascinating island of Papua (pronounced “pah-puu-ah”) New Guinea.  P.N.G., as it is called, is linked to Australia by an underwater continental shelf.  Eons ago, this land was not submerged.  This allowed both the animals and the plantlife to spread from one landmass to another unimpeded.  Hence the similarity in flora and fauna between the two.  Sometimes visitors are surprised to discover that tree kangaroos, wallabies, and a big bird that is unable to fly called a cassowary live in both Australia and New Guinea.

For most of these islands, it was violent volcanic activity that caused their creation.  Something called the “Ring of Fire” was the result of these eruptions and cooling off of molten material which, when applied layer upon layer, formed these islands.  In fact, smack in the center of this “Ring of Fire” one finds the Hawaiian Islands.

Atolls often ring the tips of these volcanoes that rise above the water level.  These atolls develop when a coral reef grows around the volcanic landmass and traps the seas in shallow lagoons.  For yachties, this is a hazard.  For snorkelers who just want to splash about in these tepid and tranquil lagoons, this is heaven.

Who Lives on These Coral Reefs?

If there was room service, I would.  But, I’d have to share with the likes of sponges, starfish, crabs, sea cucumbers, and shrimp swimming here and there.  They’re all an integral part to the delicate balance of life in and on the sea.  There are even a half dozen species of giant clams that call these reefs home.  Some, unfortunately, are plucked from the reefs to be cooked up for the next meal.

Thankfully, the flattened reeftops as well as other locations on the reefs provide ideal conditions for many sea animals to thrive.  As their life does hang in the delicate balance of the correct amount of light, oxygen in the water, sea temperature, and consistent currents, we must be careful to protect these environments.

Home Sweet Home

As the coral “grows” with the build-up of limestone skeletons of the polyps that float along, the mass eventually breaks the surface of the sea.  Then, a program of compaction occurs.  Grasses and other plant life take hold, and an island is born.  It is then that birds swoop in to set up shop.  Tiny ones.  Big ones.  In fact, on the Marshall Islands of Micronesia, the immense frigate bird has staked out his personal claim.  And who would dare to challenge him?  He’s got an impressive 10-foot wingspan.

Even mammals have made these islands their home, as well.  One of the most prolific of this group is the flying fox (also called a fruit bat).  There are more than four-dozen species scattered about the Pacific.

Snails slime and crabs skitter about on these islands.  In fact, there is one called a “coconut crab” that actually scales up palm trees then snips the greenery that connects the coconuts to the tree.  It (the coconut, not the crab) falls, smacks open, and the crab races in for his afternoon snack.

And isn’t that where we started this discussion?  Those cute posterpeople probably have retreated to a little thatched bungalow for some libation and island specialties.  But, if they want to keep those bounce-a-quarter-on-their-belly bellies, they’d best not eat too much.  That’s the only really hardship on a South Seas island.  The rest is simply paradise.