Nuku Hiva is the largest of the twelve volcanic islands that make up the Marquesas Archipelago of French Polynesia. The Marquesas are one of the most isolated island chains in the world, located in the middle of the Pacific. It is estimated to be 3.1 to 4.8 million years old.
While plants and animals reached Nuku Hiva at earlier dates, when humans first colonized the Marquesas between 1000 and 2000 years ago, with the population peaking around several hundred years ago at 80,000 inhabitants. The geographic features of Nuku Hiva greatly impacted the rest of the natural environment of the island. Additionally, Polynesian and subsequent European colonizations have played an integral role in shaping the environment of the island.
Stark rugged cliffs connected by sweeping valleys shape Nuku Hiva’s coastline.
Nuku Hiva’s geographic features make it an interesting case study for the distribution of plants and animals. When Nuku Hiva first broke through the ocean surface it was just a small volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, all of the plants and animals that now inhabit Nuku Hiva migrated there through overseas dispersal. Over time a natural population of plants and animals established the endemic biology of the island.
Out of the thousands of plant and animal species found in the Marquesas, forty two percent of the plant species and many animal species are endemic. Polynesians first brought food plants, pigs, fowls, and rats amongst other flora and fauna. These introduced species, serving agricultural and ornamental purposes, aided humans in settling the island.
Locals to this day rely on wild game to survive, sustainably living off the land while keeping the balance. Hunting on a regular basis is a way of life to survive here in the Marquesas.