French Pacific Dependencies

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The overseas territory of French Polynesia (Polynésie Française) in the South Pacific Ocean includes five island groups. The Society Islands (Îles de la Société) were discovered by the British in 1767 and named after the Royal Society, are the most important. They include Tahiti (at 17° 40 s and about 149° 20 w), the largest French Polynesian island with an area of 1,042 sq km (402 sq mi); Moorea; and Raiatea. The French established a protectorate in 1844 and made the islands a colony in 1880. The Marquesas Islands (Îles Marquises, between 8° and 11° s and 138° and 141° w), about 1,500 km (930 mi) ne of Tahiti, were discovered by Spaniards in 1595 and annexed by France in 1842. The Tuamotu Islands, about 480 km (300 mi) s and sw of the Marquesas and consisting of 78 islands scattered over an area of 800 sq km (310 sq mi), were discovered by Spaniards in 1606 and annexed by France in 1881. The Gambier Islands, se of the Tuamotus, were discovered by the British in 1797 and annexed by France in 1881. Three of the islands, Mangareva, Taravai, and Akamaru, are inhabited. The Tubuai or Austral Islands (Îles Australes), south of the Society Islands, were discovered in 1777 by James Cook and annexed by France in 1880. Clipperton Island (10° 18 n and 109° 12 w), an uninhabited atoll sw of Mexico and about 2,900 km (1,800 mi) west of Panama, was claimed by France in 1858 and given up by Mexico, which also had claimed it, in 1932. In 1979, it was placed under direct control of the French government. Total area of the territory is between 3,600 and 4,200 sq km (1,400 and 1,600 sq mi).

The estimated mid-2005 population was 270,485, of whom about 78% were Polynesian, 12% Chinese, and 10% European. About 55% of the population is Protestant and 30% is Roman Catholic; there are also small animist and Buddhist minorities. French and Polynesian are the official languages; English is also spoken. Marine life is abundant, both in the surrounding ocean and in rivers and streams; there are no indigenous mammals.

The territory is divided into five administrative areas (circonscriptions). A 57-member territorial assembly is elected every five years by universal suffrage. A council of ministers, headed by a president picked by the assembly, chooses a vicepresident and other cabinet ministers. The president assists the Frenchappointed high commissioner, who is the administrator for the whole territory of French Polynesia. The Economic Social and Cultural Council, composed of representatives of industry and professional groups, is a consultative body. Two deputies and a senator represent the territory in the French parliament.

Tourism accounts for one-fourth of GDP and is a primary source of hardcurrency earnings; visitor numbers exceeded 250,000 for the first time in 2000. A number of international airlines operate to and from French Polynesia. Tropical fruit, vanilla, coffee, and coconuts are the principal agricultural products. Fishing has intensified in especially for tuna and shark meat. Phosphate deposits, mined on Makatea in the Tuamotu Islands, were exhausted by 1966. The Pacific Nuclear Test Center, constructed on the atoll of Mururoa in the 1960s, the Office for Overseas Scientific and Technical Research, and the Oceanological Center of the Pacific (which experiments with shrimp and oyster breeding) operate in the region. A space telecommunications station is based at Tahiti. In 1996, France definitively halted all nuclear testing in French Polynesia, after it had resumed nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll in 1995.

Currency is the Comptoirs Française du Pacifique franc, linked to the euro at a rate of 1=CFP Fr119.25. Exports in 2004 totaled us$385 million (mostly cultured black pearls and coconut products); imports, us$1.437 billion.

There are a number of hospitals and private clinics on the island, and one large government hospital on Tahiti. The educational system is well-developed, and the Université de la Polynésie Française (UPF) was created in 1999, out of the former Université Française du Pacifique. The UPF had 2,649 students preparing for a diploma during the 2004/05 academic year. Agricultural and technical schools also offer postsecondary education.

French Polynesia in 1998 had 2 AM stations, 14 FM radio stations, and 7 TV stations. There were 35,000 Internet users in 2002. That year, 90,000 mobile telephones were in use, more than the number of main line telephones in use (52,500).


The French Southern and Antarctic Territories (Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises), an overseas territory of France, have a total area of 7,781 sq km (3,004 sq mi), not including Adélie Land, and are administered by an appointed administrator and consultative council from Paris. Most of the population (145 in 2005) in the territories were researchers.

The Kerguélen Archipelago, situated at 48° to 50° s and 68° to 70° e, about 5,300 km (3,300 mi) se of the Cape of Good Hope, consists of one large and about 300 small islands with a total area of 7,215 sq km (2,786 sq mi). France maintains a captive register for Frenchowned merchant ships in the archipelago.

Crozet Archipelago, at 46° s and 50° to 52° e, consists of 5 main and 15 smaller uninhabited islands, with a total area of 505 sq km (195 sq mi).

St. Paul, at about 38° 25 s and 77° 32 e, is an uninhabited island with an area of about 7 sq km (2.7 sq mi). Some 80 km (50 mi) to the north, at about 37° 50 s and with an area of about 54 sq km (21 sq mi), is Amsterdam Island.

Adélie Land (Terre Adélie), comprising some 432,000 sq km (167,000 sq mi) of Antarctica between 136° and 142° e, s of 67° s, was discovered in 1840 by Dumont d'Urville and claimed by him for France.


New Caledonia (NouvelleCalédonie), a French overseas territory ne of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean, lies between 18° and 23° s and 162° and 169° e. The main island is about 400 km (250 mi) long and 50 km (30 mi) wide, with a surface area of 16,192 sq km (6,252 sq mi). Mountainous and partly surrounded by coral reefs, the island is mostly forested or covered with low bush. With its dependencies and protectorates, it has an overall area of 18,576 sq km (7,172 sq mi). Native fauna is sparse, but plant life is abundant; among the plants unique to the territory is niaouli, a tree of the eucalyptus family whose leaves are processed for the pharmaceutical industry.

Total population in 2005 was estimated to be 216,494, of whom 42.5% were native Melanesians and 37% were Europeans. French and various Melanesian and other local languages are spoken. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion.

New Caledonia was discovered in 1768 by Louis Antoine de Bougainville and was named by James Cook, who landed there in 1774. Local chiefs recognized France's title in 1844, and New Caledonia became a French possession in 1853. In 1946, it became a French overseas territory, and in 1958, its assembly voted to maintain that status. Under 1976, 1984, and 1985 laws, New Caledonia is administered by an appointed high commissioner, an executive council, and a 54-seat territorial congress, consisting of the membership of the three provincial assemblies. New Caledonia has two representatives in the French national assembly and one in the senate. The territory is divided into three provinces (Îles Loyauté, Nord, and Sud); municipal communes play a role in primary education and social welfare.

The economy is based on agriculture and mining. Coffee, copra, potatoes, cassava, corn, wheat, and fruits are the main crops, but agricultural production does not meet the domestic demand. In 2003, New Caledonia was the fifthlargest source of nickel in the world, after Russia, Australia, Canada, and Indonesia. Nickel mining and smelting accounted for an estimated 12% of GDP and 80% of export earnings in 2000. New Caledonia has approximately 25% of the world's known nickel reserves. Coffee, copra, and chromium make up most of the other exports. Trade is mainly with France, Australia, and Japan. In 2004, exports totaled us$999 million, imports totaled us$1.636 billion.


Wallis Island and the Futuna, or Hoorn, Islands in the Southwest Pacific constitute a French overseas territory, with the capital at MataUtu, on Wallis (also called Uvéa). Lying about 400 km (250 mi) w of Pago Pago, American Samoa, at 13° 22 s and 176° 12 w, Wallis, 154 sq km (59 sq mi) in area, is surrounded by a coral reef with a single channel. The Futuna Islands are about 190 km (120 mi) to the sw at 14° 20 s and about 177° 30 w. They comprise two volcanic islands, Futuna and Alofi, which, together with a group of small islands, have a total area of about 116 sq km (45 sq mi).

The Futuna group was discovered by Dutch sailors in 1616; Wallis (at first called Uvéa) was discovered by the English explorer Samuel Wallis in 1767. A French missionary established a Catholic mission on Wallis in 1837, and missions soon followed on the other islands. In 1842, the French established a protectorate, which was officially confirmed in 1887 for Wallis and in 1888 for Futuna. As of mid-2005, Wallis and Futuna had an estimated 16,025 inhabitants. Most of the population is Polynesian; only 2.5% are European. French and Uvean are the principal languages spoken; 99% of the population is Roman Catholic. A high administrator, representing the French government, is assisted by a 20-seat territorial assembly. Principal commercial activities are the production of copra and fishing for trochus. The chief food crops are yams, taro, bananas, manioc, and arrowroot.