Geography and Environment of Vanuatu

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Vanuatu is located in Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Australia. Its geographic coordinates are 16 00 S, 167 00 E. Vanuatu is comprised of a Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller islands; several of the islands have active volcanoes and there are several underwater volcanoes as well

Area: total: 12,189 square kilometers; land: 12,189 square kilometers; water: 0 square kilometers. note: includes more than 80 islands, about 65 of which are inhabited; ranking compared to other countries in the world: 162. It is about slightly larger than Connecticut. [Source: CIA World Factbook 2023]

Land Boundaries: total: 0 kilometers; Coastline: 2,528 kilometers; Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nautical miles; contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles; exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles; continental shelf: 200 nautical miles or to the edge of the continental margin measured from claimed archipelagic baselines.

Land Use: agricultural land: 15.3 percent (2018 estimate). Arable Land: 1.6 percent (2018 estimate); permanent crops: 10.3 percent (2018 estimate); permanent pasture: 3.4 percent (2018 estimate); forest: 36.1 percent (2018 estimate); other: 48.6 percent (2018 estimate). Irrigated Land: 0 square kilometers (2022). [Source: CIA World Factbook 2023]

Climate: tropical; moderated by southeast trade winds from May to October; moderate rainfall from November to April; may be affected by cyclones from December to April.

Natural Hazards: tropical cyclones (January to April); volcanic eruption on Aoba (Ambae) island began on 27 November 2005, volcanism also causes minor earthquakes; tsunamis

Geographical Features of Vanuatu

Topography: mostly mountainous islands of volcanic origin; narrow coastal plains. Elevation: highest point: Tabwemasana 1,877 meters; lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 meters.

Volcanoes: significant volcanic activity with multiple eruptions in recent years; Yasur (361 meters), one of the world's most active volcanoes, has experienced continuous activity in recent centuries; other historically active volcanoes include Aoba, Ambrym, Epi, Gaua, Kuwae, Lopevi, Suretamatai, and Traitor's Head


Ocean islands are basically divided into three types: 1) "low" coral and sand islands; 2) "high" islands (usually exposed peaks and ridge-tops of submerged mountains and volcanos); and 3) parts of the continental shelf. Some continental islands were mountains and hills along the coast during last Ice Age when ocean levels were lower.

Low islands or cays were formed on coral shoals from reef sediments. Atoll islands are low islands (See Below). Seabird dropping fertilize the soils of some of these islands, which allow scrubby forest to take root. Others are battered regularly by storms and are little more than shifting piles of sand. Some patches of sand are so low they disappear during low tide and lose their status as islands.

High islands generally have better soil and a better supply of water than low islands. Low islands support only a few species of plant because there little topsoil and this soil has a high salt content. Although they often have no visible water sources they often are positioned over water lenses that trap rain water and can provide fresh water through wells.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: CIA World Factbook, 2023; “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 2: Oceania,” edited by Terence E. Hays, 1991, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated August 2023

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