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May 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Where Exactly Is the South Pacific?

from the May, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Ben,

Could you please tell me where the South Pacific is? I'm referring to the April issue's travel article about Chuuk, which mentions that these islands are in the "South Pacific."I've been there twice, and each time the islands were above the equator. I'd suggest that this places them in the Central Pacific, or even the "North" Pacific, if the South ends at the equator.

However, while I hear plenty of South Pacific I almost never hear North Pacific. Seems like most writers instinctively add "South" when they are writing about almost anywhere in the Pacific Ocean. So, as you're an editor, please tell me where the South Pacific starts and ends? Or better, edit out "South" for islands above the equator. Maybe get James Michener to write another book titled Tales of the North Pacific to even out the misuse.

-- Harry Haley, Yorktown, VA


Dear Harry,

You're right. Mea culpa. I suppose we Americans perceive any islands south of Hawaii with palm trees as the South Pacific, and of course we are wrong. But in our defense, and in Chuuk's defense, James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific is a collection of stories based on his experiences in the Pacific theater during World War II, in which Chuuk played a big role. So because Michener created the palm-treed "South Pacific" identity that seems to encompass Micronesia, we'll blame him for now, and think twice before using that phrase for north-of-the-equator locations in the future.

-- Ben

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