With a total area of just under 430 miles, Fakarava is one of the largest islands in the French Polynesian islands. It is located in the western part of the archipelago, and it is home to about 840 residents. The island, like many of its neighborhoods, is known for its spectacular natural beauty and warm tropical waters that support an abundance of plant and animal life.
Along with tourism, which is driven mostly by deep-sea diving and snorkeling, the atoll's economy depends on pearl harvesting and copra production. As with the neighboring atolls, the lagoon on Fakarava has a perfect combination of minerals, nutrients, and temperature that is required to grow some of the most beautiful and rare oysters in the world. Copra production is supported by coconut palm farms found across the island. Coconut trees were introduced by Western explorers, and they continue to thrive in Fakarava's warm tropical climate.
While the island has been settled by natives for centuries, the first Europeans did not arrive until the 1800s. A Russian explorer laid claim to the island's discovery in 1820, and from that point on the atoll attracted more explorers and researchers. Rotoava, the main village on Fakarava, is home to a church erected by French missionaries. Pan-European influence can also be seen in the island's present-day architecture, while ruins and artifacts show the island's diverse past. The island is a busy center of tourism today, and it is accessible by air travel to and from the Fakarava Airport.
Although the island's tourists are attracted to its sandy beaches, blue waters, restaurants and shops, Fakarava is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This designation is given to places around the world where unique landscapes, vital ecosystems, and sustainable growth and development are considered equally important. Because of the attention that has been given to preserving Fakarava's unique plant and animal life, there are many species of rare and endangered species on the island. Many of its top wildlife lives in the surrounding waters, which are populated with tropical fish, sharks, and colorful coral. Fakarava's stunning landscapes have also been admired over time, and its lagoon is said to have inspired the famous “Bleu Matisse” painting created by French artist Henri Matisse.