The Pacific Islands is a area geographic region of the Pacific Ocean comprised of three ethnogeographic groupings: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The region is made up of independent states, associated states, and parts of non-Pacific countries. The Pacific Islands do not include Australia, the Aleutian Chain islands, or the Indonesian, Philippine, and Japanese archipelagoes.
The Pacific Islands span over 300,000 square miles (800,000 square kilometers) and millions of square miles of ocean. The Pacific Islands create a triangle, starting at New Guinea, stretching to Hawaii, and then down to New Zealand. New Zealand and Papua New Guinea make up about 90% of the Pacific Islands’ total square mileage.
The Pacific Island nations vary in size. Papua New Guinea is the largest by land mass and population, spanning over 178,704 square miles and home to about 8.9 million people. Nauru is the smallest nation, with a size of only 8.1 square miles (21 square kilometers) and a population of 10,800. The majority of the region’s population is located in Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands. Each nation tends to be densely populated with most people living along the coast.
Several hundred languages are spoken in the region; however, most people have familiarity with English or French since one or the other is the official language of virtually all of the nations. Christianity is widespread among the islands and is sometimes combined with traditional practices.
The region is not without its challenges. Of the Pacific Island nations, only New Zealand is classified as a developed country. Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are classified as least-developed countries and the remaining nations are classified as developing. Eight of the ten most obese countries in the world are Pacific Island nations, a problem attribute to the influence of Western settlers, who taught them to fry their foods and import more process, less healthy food products.
The islands are also small in size and have limited natural resources, narrowly-based economies, are far from major markets, and are vulnerable to external shocks. Most Pacific Island economies are developing and imports exceed exports for most nations. Some islands are overseas territories of larger, developed nations, allowing them to receive aid, while other independent states receive help from other nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
Many of the Pacific Island nations’ economies rely on tourism. Agriculture, fishing, and services are the three largest economic sectors overall in the region. Manufacturing is limited in most nations except for New Zealand. Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and some other nations can export timber and other wood products thanks to the availability of commercially exploitable forests.
There are 15 independent Pacific Island nations in addition to tens of thousands of islands, islets, and atolls. The independent nations are: