ECOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The Pacific Ocean ecology is under threat from a variety of directions.
The Great Barrier Reef and other corals are being steadily eroded. Coral is also at risk through pollution and the effects of tourism.
Oil and other industrial pollutants have caused particular damage in the South China Sea and off the coast of Alaska (the Exxon Valdez oil spill).
Many of the area's species, such as sea turtles and sea lions are under special threat. The sea otter came close to extinction early this century from overhunting. Similar pressures on the whale population have only recently been eased by the ban on whaling.
A number of the islands of the Pacific have been damaged by the introduction of non-native animal species, such as pigs in Hawaii. The pressure of tourism on the fragile ecology of reefs and islands is a new danger resulting from the growth of modern air travel.
Although nuclear testing has now all but come to a halt, the Pacific suffered from its use by the UK, USA and France as the testing ground for their atomic weapons. (2000)
TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS
The vast size of the ocean made it a major barrier to communications and trade until the invention of the steamship and the modern long-haul jet.
The main trade routes are from the USA to Japan, Asia and Australia and vice versa. Until the opening of the Panama Canal, shipping had to sail round Cape Horn to travel to and from the Pacific and the East Coast of America. The dangers of the Horn restrained trade with the Pacific.
The new world of electronic communications is helping to make trade easier. Australia and other Pacific nations are among the world's most active users of email.
The Pacific basin is one of the world's oil producing areas with offshore oil fields off the coast of Alaska, California and China.
Since the region is so geologically active it has the benefit of a reliable supply of geothermal energy, which is particularly important to the New Zealand economy.
Wind power has also proved suitable as a means of electricity generation on many of the Pacific islands.
The fisheries of the Pacific are among the world's richest, particularly those fed by the cold currents along the coast of South America. The birds which prey on these fish produce another of the region's important resources - their droppings, piling up year after year, form guano, one of the world's richest fertilizers.
The island of Nauru had such huge reserves of phosphate, again built up from thousands of years of sea bird droppings, that it became the smallest and probably the richest republic, per person, in the world.
The Pacific has long been one of the world's main sources of pearls. Although natural pearls are still collected by divers, most of the Pacific pearls are now grown artificially in specially farmed oysters.
The Pacific's most famous contribution to sport is surfing.
On Hawaii and many other islands the people made simple wooden boards on which they rode the great Pacific waves. When the sport became popular in America and around the world it was the Hawaiians who won many of the early competitions and championships.
In the warm waters of the Pacific scuba diving is a particularly popular sport. The coral reefs and abundant tropical fish attract many tourists to the islands. The ocean has special dangers for swimmers in its many sharks. A lot of beaches are protected by shark-nets and patrolled by lifeguards.
Sailing, cruising and ocean racing are all significant sporting activities in the Pacific Ocean.