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Geography of Vanuatu

Learn About Vanuatu - A Small Island Nation in Oceania


Vanuatu Flag

The Vanuatu flag has two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and green with a black isosceles triangle all separated by a black-edged yellow Y (horizontal) stripe; centered in the triangle is a boar's tusk encircling two crossed namele leaves.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007

Population: 221,552 (July 2010 estimate)
Capital: Port-Vila
Land Area: 4,706 square miles (12,189 sq km)
Coastline: 1,570 miles (2,528 km)
Highest Point: Tabwemasana at 6,158 feet (1,877 m)

Vanuatu (map) is an island nation located in Oceania between Australia and the United States state of Hawaii. It is an archipelago of volcanic origin and it is 1,090 miles (1,750 km) east of Australia. Vanuatu's other closest neighbors are New Caledonia, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.

Most recently Vanuatu has been in the news due to a series of large earthquakes that struck the island in both 2009 and 2010. In October 2009, several large earthquakes hit the islands and some were powerful enough to trigger tsunami warnings for neighboring islands. On May 28, 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Vanuatu and triggered a tsunami warning. In addition, on August 10, 2010, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit and was followed by several very large aftershocks.

History of Vanuatu

According to the U.S. Department of State, archaeological evidence shows that people first arrived on the islands of Vanuatu about 4,000 years ago. Europeans first arrived on the islands in 1606 when the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros sighted what he called Espiritu Santo. This was the first island in the archipelago to be named. Europeans then did not return to the islands until 1768. In that year, Louis Antoine de Bougainville found the islands and in 1774, Captain James Cook named the islands New Hebrides.

In the early 1800s, sandalwood was discovered on the island of Erromango and a rush of traders landed on the island. This lasted only until 1830 though because of clashes between Polynesian workers who were brought in and the native Melanesians.

Also in the early 1800s, Catholic and Protestant missionaries as well as other foreign settlers looking to establish cotton plantations arrived on the islands of Vanuatu. Originally, the people coming to Vanuatu were British settlers from Australia. In 1882 though, the Caledonian Company of the New Hebrides was established and French settlers began to outnumber the British. As a result of this mixed population, in 1906, France and the United Kingdom decided to jointly control the islands.

During France and the U.K.'s control, the government was called the British-French Condominium and there were separate governmental systems for the different citizens. In addition, the native Melanesians were not allowed to have citizenship with either of the two groups.

In the early 1940s, Americans arrived on Vanuatu due to World War II and they caused nationalism to grow in the islands. Independent political parties were not established until 1970 though. The first of these was called the New Hebrides National Party and was founded by Father Walter Lini in that year. In 1974, the party was renamed the Vanua'aku Pati and it was responsible for pushing for Vanuatu's independence. In 1980, the islands gained independence from France and the U.K. and the Republic of Vanuatu was created.

Government of Vanuatu

Today, Vanuatu is considered a parliamentary republic with a chief of state and a head of government making up its executive branch. The chief of state position is filled by the president, while the head of government is Vanuatu's prime minister. Vanuatu's legislative branch is comprised of a unicameral Parliament made up of 52 seats, the members of which are elected by a popular vote. The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court. Vanuatu is divided into six provinces (Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea and Torba) for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Vanuatu

Vanuatu's economy is mainly based on small scale agriculture. The largest agricultural products include copra, coconuts, cocoa, coffee, taro, yams, fruits, vegetables and beef. In addition, fishing, offshore financial services and tourism are other large sectors of the economy. The industries that are present on Vanuatu are food and fish freezing, wood processing and meat canning. The islands also have very few natural resources.

Geography and Climate of Vanuatu

Vanuatu's archipelago includes more than 80 islands but only about 65 of them are inhabited. The islands are mainly of volcanic origin and they are mostly mountainous. They do however have, narrow coastal plains. The climate of Vanuatu is tropical but it is also moderated by southeast trade winds from May to October. In addition, the major rainy season on Vanuatu is from November to April and the islands are sometimes impacted by cyclones from December to April. Vanuatu's capital, Port-Vila, has an average December high temperature of 86˚F (30˚C) and an average July low of 64˚F (18˚C).

Biodiversity of Vanuatu

Despite its tropical locale and dense forests, Vanuatu is not very biodiverse in terms of its flora and fauna. For example, there are no native large mammals on the islands and most of the plants and animals found there are thought to have been brought in by colonists. Vanuatu is rich in sea life however - for example it has over 4,000 species of marine mollusks. Mangrove forests are also common along the islands' coastal areas.

To learn more about Vanuatu, visit the Government of Vanuatu's official website.


Central Intelligence Agency. (3 August 2010). CIA - The World Factbook -Vanuatu. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/nh.html

Infoplease.com. (n.d.). Vanuatu: History, Geography, Government, and Culture- Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108132.html

United States Department of State. (31 March 2010). Vanuatu. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2815.htm

Wikipedia.com. (11 August 2010). Vanuatu - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanuatu

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