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Australia and Oceania is a continent made up of thousands of islands throughout the South Pacific Ocean.
Oceania is a region made up of thousands of islands throughout the Central and South Pacific Ocean. It includes Australia, the smallest continent in terms of total land area. Most of Australia and Oceania is under the Pacific, a vast body of water that is larger than all the Earth’s continental landmasses and islands combined. The name “Oceania” justly establishes the Pacific Ocean as the defining characteristic of the continent.
Oceania is dominated by the nation of Australia. The other two major landmasses of Oceania are the microcontinent of Zealandia, which includes the country of New Zealand, and the western half of the island of New Guinea, made up of the nation of Papua New Guinea. Oceania also includes three island regions: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia (including the U.S. state of Hawaii).
Oceania’s physical geography, environment and resources, and human geography can be considered separately.
Oceania can be divided into three island groups: continental islands, high islands, and low islands. The islands in each group are formed in different ways and are made up of different materials. Continental islands have a variety of physical features, while high and low islands are fairly uniform in their physical geography.
Oceania encompasses more than thirty thousand islands in the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south. To most geographers the lands that make up Oceania include Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, New Zealand, and often Australia and the Malay Archipelago. These islands are home to a wide range of cultures, and today many of the island nations recognize more than one language. For example, in Papua New Guinea alone, a part of the island region known as Melanesia, at least 846 different languages are spoken. Some of these languages are spoken by as few as fifty people.
Seen through the eyes of European explorers, the island cultures were strange and exotic. Although practicing separate and distinct traditions, islanders led strikingly similar lives in the eyes of foreigners because of the similar environments on the islands. Small groups banded together and lived off fishing, the produce from their own farming, or hunting and gathering. Explorers often described life in the South Pacific as pleasant and idyllic. John Fearn, captain of a British whaling ship, dubbed the island of Nauru "Pleasant Island" when he visited it in 1798. The majority of information recorded was about islanders living nearest the coasts. Some groups living in the remote, rugged inland areas were largely unknown to the rest of the world until the 1970s, when further exploration introduced these groups to the westerners.
The traditional cultures on the islands of Oceania have become largely westernized. Not long after the first Europeans "discovered" the islands, European nations claimed sovereignty over particular islands. Micronesia, for instance, was under Spanish rule from 1526 until 1899, when Germany bought the islands. German administration of Micronesia lasted until 1914, when Japan claimed possession of the territory. In 1947 the United States began administering Micronesia, and this rule lasted until 1970, when Micronesia declared its independence. Other regions of Oceania were under similar European, Japanese, and later American, control.
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