French Polynesia is located in the tropical South Pacific and covers an area the size of Europe, although being mostly ocean. It is comprised of five island groups, each distinct from every other in terms of size, geography, culture and language. The Tuamotu Archipelago [Dangerous Archipelago] is the largest in number of islands, nearly 80 atolls, circles of low coral islets on reefs that define large lagoons. The Society Islands is the largest group in terms of land area and population size. Most of these islands are high and lush with large lagoons that separate the main islands from the barrier reefs that encircle them. Tahiti is in the windward sub-area of the Society Islands and the Tahitian language is spoken as the mother tongue throughout this group although with some regional variability. Tahitian language has become the lingua franca all through the territory and even begun to displace the native speech in the western Tuamotus immediately to the east and part of the widely dispersed Austral Islands to the south. Further to the northeast, and past the Tuamotus, lie the Marquesas Islands which inspired Melvilleís romantic tale of Typee. These are high islands with sheer and rugged coastlines but without the coral reef structures found elsewhere in French Polynesia. To the southeast of the Tuamotus are found the Gambier Islands, once a single volcanic structure eons ago, but now several island fragments within a single large reef structure and with several low coral islets at different points along the reef.
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Last modified 13 November 2001
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