The Pacific Ocean stretches between the Arctic and Antarctic, with Asia and Australia to the west, and the Americas to the east. The oldest, largest and deepest of all the world’s ocean basins, the Pacific covers nearly a third of the world’s surface and contains more than half of the free water on Earth. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 islands are found in the Pacific Ocean, with the majority lying south of the equator.
The Pacific is bordered by a string of volcanoes and areas prone to earthquakes, known as the ‘ring of fire’, where the edges of a number of tectonic plates meet. This has resulted in the formation of many volcanic islands, and subsequently coral reefs and atolls, in addition to the larger, continental islands such as New Zealand and New Guinea in the south.
The islands of the South Pacific are home to a spectacular array of wildlife, including many endemic species that are found nowhere else on Earth. On some islands, estimates suggest that nearly 100 percent of the plant and bird species are endemic.
The main factors affecting the South Pacific islands are the introduction of invasive species that prey upon or out-compete the native wildlife, destruction of habitats and the threat of climate change as the low-lying atolls will be the first to experience the effects of sea-level rise.