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When the sea level was higher than it is now, Teraina was an atoll with a saline water lagoon connected to the sea. Over the years, a sea level decrease enclosed the lagoon, separating it from the ocean. This created a closed basin, capable of collecting large amounts of fresh rainwater. This freshwater lake is located on the Eastern half of the island. The surface of the five kilometer long, one kilometer wide lake is about one meter above. While averaging about 1.5 meters deep, reportedly the lake reaches depths of ten meters, maintained by heavy rainfall.

On the Western half of the island lie two peat bogs. The Eastern bog is connected to the lake, whilst the Western one is isolated. The peat, averaging a meter thick and decreasing to just a few inches thick around the edges of the bog, consists of a dense, interlaced mass of partly decayed plant fibers. Within the Western bog lies a small island, its soil and coconut palm grove supported by peat. Each bog measures between 80 and 100 hectares.

A man-made transportation canal connect the lake, East bog and West bog. This canal, which begins in the lake, ends beachside in the southwest edge of the island. A second canal connects the east end of the lake to the edge of the ocean. The latter two ends have dam gates to regulate the level of the lake and the canals. At least a portion of the canal digging was performed by the wives of workmen brought from the Gilbert Islands. The original purpose of these canals was twofold: To create a mode of transportation and to drain the bogs, possibly to use the land they occupied for more coconut palms.

map of Teraina From the Atoll Research Bulletin

The principle visible vegetation on Teraina is the coconut palm, some 25 to 30 meters in height, making the island visible from a ship 25 kilomters away. In 1942, 800 hectares of such palm existed on the island, of which only 80 hectares appeared to be planted by man. Growing along the beach crest are tree heliotrope and Lepturus bunchgrass along with some scaevola thickets. Other trees on Teraina include Pisonia, pandanus and the tree heliotrope. A dense undergrowth of polypody, birds-nest and other ferns is common throughout the island.

This page is largely based on Edwin H. Bryan, Jr.'s 1942 book American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain.

4° 41' N, 160° 22' W