| ||The archipelago of the Leeward Islands in French Polynesia, an overseas territory since 1946, includes this 15 mi2 (39 km2) island whose name means “the firstborn.” It consists of the emerged part of the crater of a 7-million-year-old volcano surrounded by a coral barrier reef. Coral islets with vegetation largely consisting of coconut trees have developed along the reef. Teavanui Pass is the only passage between the lagoon and the ocean deep enough for freighters and battleships (the island served as an American military base from 1942 to 1946). Coral formations cover less than 0.2 percent of the earth’s surface, but they contain remarkable biodiversity. The situation of coral is worrisome—nearly 60 percent of reefs are threatened—but not desperate; despite the effects of pollution, overfishing, and rising temperatures ravaging many reefs, an increase in regenerated coral has been observed.
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