Funafuti, a coral island
Funafuti is a coral island and is an example of thousands which dot the surface of the Pacific. It is a circular island -- an atoll -- consisting of a ring of twentynine oddly shaped islets surrounding a central lagoon. It includes three hundred thirty-four acres and rises at its highest point but sixteen feet above the sea. The rock of the little islands which make up Funafuti is limestone made of chunks of coral and wind-blown coral sand, and the soil is a thin layer of decomposed limestone overlying hard rock. There are no streams; the water for drinking and cooking comes from shallow brackish wells or is rain water caught in bowls. The island is too low to intercept the rain-bearing clouds; rain falls just as it does over the open ocean, and droughts may occur any year or several times in a year. Because the soil of the island is thin and lacks the vegetable mold necessary to the growth of many species of plants, there are only a few kinds of trees and shrubs, those which will grow in sand and in the cracks of rocks. The trees suitable for making canoes are small.
The food plants are the coco palm, which serves also for building material, and the wonderful pandanus, which furnishes a kind of flour for bread and fiber for ropes and strings, mats, and clothing. By digging suitable trenches to procure moist earth and protection from drifting sand and by carefully tending the crop, taro and bananas are raised. Sea food and the flesh and eggs of sea birds are plentiful. On some of the little coral islands, like those which make up the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Tuamotus, several families may make a living, and on a few of them are communities of more than a hundred people. But no one lives on most of the many thousands of coral islands, like Laysan, Johnston, and Palmyra; many of them have never been inhabited. The reason for this is not only that food is scarce; the islands are so low that in times of great storms the waves would rush across the land, destroying the crops and drowning the peoples.