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'Nine Eyes' Atoll: Earth Image of the Week September 3, 2010
MODIS image of Mataiva Atoll.
French Polynesia’s Mataiva Atoll, photographed on August 13, 2010 by an astronaut on the International Space Station.
Secluded in a remote stretch of the South Pacific is the Tuamotu Archipelago, which is part of French Polynesia. The island group forms the largest chain of atolls in the world.

The image to the right was taken by an astronaut orbiting aboard the International Space Station, and shows Mataiva Atoll, which is the westernmost in the Tuamotu chain.

Mataiva means “nine eyes” in the Tuamotuan language. It refers to the nine narrow channels on the south-central portion of the island.

Much of the 6-mile-long atoll (compressed in the image due to the angle the photograph was taken from space) is covered with forest.

Vanilla and dried coconut are the largest exports from the atoll, which has just one settlement.

The village of Pahua is located on each side of a narrow channel, seen near the top of the image.

A modern airport runway can also be seen paralleling the coast adjacent to Pahua. Since it was inaugurated in 1999, the airport has allowed tourism to become a new and growing sector for Mataiva’s economy.

The extensive coral deposits clearly visible within the atoll comprise an enormous reserve of phosphate, which has been mined on other South Seas atolls.

But the residents of Mataiva have elected to leave their island free of mining, and focus on agriculture, tourism and a way of life relatively free of stress and pollution.

The latest census revealed that the entire atoll has a population of only 227.

Full story and image: NASA