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ecoDestinations - Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia are often thought to be another island agglomeration, like the Northern Mariana Islands, with a shared cultural and linguistic identity. In truth, Micronesia is an arbitrarily constructed government, consisting of the four unique islands of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap in the western Pacific Ocean. Conquered by the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese, they are now an independent country under the Compact of Free Association, meaning that they still depend on the United States for assistance.
Micronesia is part of a hotspot, an area of high biodiversity that faces many threats, that includes Polynesia, Fiji, and Hawaii, totaling 4,5000 islands. These islands vary from rocky islets, tiny coral atolls, to larger, volcanic islands. In this hotspot, there are about 5,3330 species of native plants, of which 58% are endemic.
Because of their isolation and small size, island ecosystems are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards such as rising sea levels, pollution, deforestation, and unsustainable fishing. The species here are some of the most endangered in the world. Unfortunately, socioeconomic changes and population growth have meant an increased dependence on cash-crop production, destructive agricultural techniques, the over-harvesting of resources. These practices have significantly polluted existing habitats, resulting in some of the highest extinction rates in the world.
Climate change has also had a significant effect as rising sea levels have been threatening the low-lying atolls of Micronesia. Moreover, rising ocean temperatures kill the coral reefs that protect the atolls from storm damage, leading to further erosion and loss of land. Some experts fear that climate change will destroy many atolls in the 21st century.
Culturally, there is very little connecting the peoples from the four islands. Chuk and Yap once belonged to the so-called Yapese empire, while the islands on the western side of Micronesia seem to have been settled by peoples from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Outer islanders are also culturally distinct from the high islanders, speaking different languages and having different forms of social organization. Before European contact, low islanders would go to the high islands to obtain food and trade, or to seek refuge after a natural disaster. The low islanders would often provide shell beads, plaited pandanus mats and cloth woven from banana or wild hibiscus fiber in exchange for food if the more fertile high islands. Another popular trading item was turmeric, which was used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes, or mixed with coconut oil to make a bright orange body paint. The two groups would often intermarry.
Currentlly, there is little left of Micronesians’ traditional lifestyles, except for on some of the remotest of the outer islands. Today, many outer islanders are discriminated in terms of access to employment, land, housing, and education.
The Four Islands:
Kosrae: Explore ancient ruins and WWII relics, go butterfly or bird watching, dive amongst the Pacific's largest and healthiest coral reef, surf the waves, or hike through uncharted rainforests on the beautiful island of Kosrae. Isolated geographically from the rest of the islands means that you will often have the place completely to yourself. While in Kosrae, make sure to visit the ruins of Lelu (see more below).
Yap: The island is known for its pristine coral reefs and stone money banks. Amongst divers it’s famous for its manta rays sightings, which can be found during their mating season between December and April. Its barrier reef is also among the healthiest in the Pacific. On O’Keefe Island, you can find disk money. Up to 4 meters in diameter (13 ft), they had holes drilled through the center so the men could carry them with poles. The ancient Yapese people travelled across 400 km of open water to Paula where they quarried their megalithic disk. Then the stones were carried home in sailing canoes. The site also includes rock shelters, caves, human remains, burials, and shell middens.
Pohnpei: With one of the world’s highest rainfalls, Pohnpei is a lush tropical jungle covered in mangrove swamps, flowering hibiscus, and over forty rivers. There are more than 750 species of plants here, 250 of which are endemic. Pohnpei is best known as the location of the ancient city of nan Madol (see more below).
Chuuk: Famous as one of the best wreck diving spots in the world, Chuuk was a strategic location for Japan’s naval base in the Pacific during World War II. From this island, the Japanese would launch attacks in the Solomon Islands in New Guinea. The US eventually retaliated in 1944 with Operation, sinking dozens of freighters and destroying hundreds of aircraft. It remains the largest naval loss in history. Divers can explore nearly 70 wrecks in the lagoon alone.
Nan Madol: A tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nan Madol was a residential and ritual center for the highest-ranking members of society in 1100 AD. Built on a coastal reef on the eastern side of Pohnpei, it consists 92 artificial islets. Wide basalt pillars were quarried on Pohnpei, carried to Nan Madol by raft, and then stacked horizontally around the islets, creating narrow channels and retaining seawalls. There are temples, burial vaults, meeting houses, bathing areas, and pools for turtles, fish, and eels.
Lelu: Another tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lelu was the city center for the rulers of Kosrae from around 1400 AD. It consists of 100 walled compounds on smaller islands that are connected to Kosrae by a causeway. Surviving ruins consists of the walls, mortuary areas, ceremonial platforms, and paved streets.
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