To speak of an ‘extreme environment’ for human habitation is to bring to mind high mountains, scorching deserts or arctic expanses. The lushness of a tropical atoll is perhaps one of the last places we might imagine looking for such a landscape. Beginning with the descriptions of early explorers such as Cook and Wallace, the conventional image of the people of the Pacific islands has been overwhelmed with images of humankind in an undisturbed state of nature; a languid and carefree existence made possible by a benign and bountiful landscape which freely provides all the necessities of life. In fact, atolls are one of the most challenging environments ever colonized by mankind.
The emerging islets develop a broad base of livelihood activities: The enhanced environment is more responsive to sea-level change than natural motu, and much more resilient than urbanized atolls. A man-made reef is now a feature along the entire lagoon shore – providing fishing and hunting and producing sand which is washed up among the mangroves. Vegetation anchors the dunes, protecting landforms during storms. The people who settle here will also have to be resilient — prepared to take shelter on leeward islands in typhoon season, and willing to live in a challenging marine environment.
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