We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it




South Pacific


Prompted by global warming, tropical storms are hitting the South Pacific more often - but they cause less permanent damage than the global market and its consuming passions.
The 20,000 islands and 6.5 million islanders of the region are under siege.


The Pacific Ocean is the earth's largest single geographical feature and contains:

The South Pacific region contains the Earth's:

  • three-quarters of its active volcanoes
  • an estimated half of its remaining fish 2
  • four-fifths of its islands
  • a quarter (1,200) of its languages - 700 in Papua New Guinea alone2
  • enough water to swallow every landmass - and still leave room for another continent the size of Asia2

[image, unknown]

  • highest ratio of ocean to land - 1 square metre of land per 10 square kilometres of ocean2
  • highest proportion of endemic species per unit of land area or per human inhabitant
  • deepest marine trench - the Marianas Trench (at 11,000 metres almost half as deep again as Mount Everest is high)2
  • most diverse oceanic island chain - the Solomon Islands
  • highest rate of deforestation - Western Samoa
  • first nuclear-free constitution - Belau3




The 'tyranny of distance' has so far kept most of the islands out of the reach of tourism - but the world's largest and ultimate consumer 'industry' will not be denied for long:

  • Only Nadi in Fiji among the Pacific Member Countries of the World Bank can cope with a fully-laden Boeing 747 jet
  • Tourist arrivals in the East Asia Pacific region increased by 8.7% between 1988 and 1993 but in the South Pacific by just 6.8% - from 330,000 to 450,000. This suggests that tourism in the South Pacific is set to expand considerably
  • Around a third of the hotel rooms are in 7% of the total number of establishments: the large 'resort' hotels. These hotels are owned and operated by overseas investors and managers - only a small proportion of the income remains

Many forests on the west coast of the US, in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have been logged out. So Sarawak and Papua New Guinea have become the substitute source of supply for the plywood and veneer mills of Japan and Korea. The small South Pacific islands are now following suit.

[image, unknown]
  • In 1993 natural forest still covered 45% of Fiji, 78% of the Solomon Islands, 75% of Vanuatu and 77% of Western Samoa
  • In 1995 the 'sustainable' annual cut for the Solomon Islands was estimated at 286,000 m3 - in 1994 the actual cut was 700,000 m3and seemed likely to increase to 1,300,000 m3. At this rate, the islands will be logged out in less than five years
  • Similar rates of deforestation apply in Vanuatu and Western Samoa. Major logging contracts are planned for Fiji
  • Profits described as 'excessive' by the World Bankitself are made by the logging companies and average 30 per cent of the value

As fish stocks elsewhere have been exhausted, so the South Pacific has become the focus for industrial fishing fleets from around the world. The region now supplies over half the world's canned tuna. The exact size of Pacific stocks is unknown, as is the rate at which they are being depleted.

[image, unknown]

  • Reported South Pacific deep-sea tuna catches almost doubled, from 0.6 to 1.1 million metric tons, between 1984 and 1991
  • Illegal catches are much larger: the South Pacific Commission estimates those by Japan may be twice as large as reported, by Taiwan 7 times larger and by South Korea 176 times larger
  • Deep-water fishing fleets generate little economic activity on the islands whose territorial waters they fish, and pay minimal royalties
  • Coastal and reef fisheries provide 28.9% of protein consumption in Fiji and 73.6% in the Solomon Islands
  • Fishing is undertaken by 99% of coastal households in Kiribati and 87% in the Marshall Islands, primarily for local consumption

[image, unknown]

[image, unknown]

New Internationalist issue 291 magazine cover This article is from the June 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »


Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop