This photograph, taken by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station, provides a glimpse of the settlements along the shores of the coral reef-ringed island of Tahiti. Pictured here is the Isthmus of Taravao, a narrow strip of land that connects the two ancient volcanoes-Tahiti-Nui and Tahiti-Iti-and the villages that line the coast.

Tahiti is part of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean called the Society Islands, one of five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia. Of the 118 islands and atolls, Tahiti is the largest, with approximately 70 percent of the nation's population. This island's rugged topography and dense rainforest has led most of its inhabitants to live along the coastline.

As with many islands in the South Pacific, the economy is driven in large part by tourism, so resorts and hotels have been built up along the coast. A constant environmental issue that Tahitians face is the rise of sea level and other climate-driven effects on coastal systems. The loss of shoreline from coastal flooding and erosion is a significant threat to low-lying communities and islands, and they could eventually have serious implications for Tahiti.

Find more stories about our changing oceans and coasts in Earth Observatory's sea level rise collection. Learn more about astronaut photography in our new video feature Picturing Earth: Window on the World.


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