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Earth Sense: Fiji seems like paradise, but subject to quakes, hurricanes
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Conditions like the record-breaking blasts of cold air during much of February make us dream of warmer weather.

Such dream places surely include the republic of Fiji, a nation in the Pacific Ocean consisting of more than 330 individual islands. Some are fairly large, like Viti Levu, the island that’s home to the city of Suva, capital of Fiji. Viti Levu is a bit smaller than Connecticut.

Others are small, covering just a few acres. But all of them convey that impression of “paradise” — tropical beaches, white sand, palm trees, gentle ocean breezes.

One of them, Monuriki, acquired international fame through the 2000 movie “Cast Away,” with Tom Hanks playing stranded FedEx manager Chuck Noland. At 100 acres, Monuriki is about half the size of an average Georgia farm.

The movie shows clearly the steep volcanic rocks that pushed the island into existence. With its Hollywood fame, Monuriki has become a travel destination for movie buffs who like to visit locations shown on the big screen, and at the same time enjoy a relaxed vacation at a place almost as quiet as Noland’s lonely abode.

Contrary to the fictional story, the “Cast Away” star wasn’t surrounded by the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean. In real life, he would have needed to paddle only 2 miles northeast to enjoy a cool drink at the beach of the local town. Another 2 miles would have taken him to a luxury spa resort on nearby Tokoriki Island. But this reality doesn’t diminish the quality of the film story.

An unpleasant part of Fiji reality is its periodic lashings from Mother Nature. The Tonga Trench, an undersea abyss extending roughly from New Zealand to Samoa, produces earthquakes in Fiji on a regular basis.

In 2014, the count was 172. The strongest one measured 7.1 last Nov. 1. That’s the magnitude that destroyed large portions of Mexico City in 1985.

On average, we can count on seeing one earthquake per week. But most of them are small, so the area is rightfully considered safe for tourism.

It’s ironic that these dream like islands also get visited by tropical systems from November to April, with hurricane Evan (2012) still fresh in people’s minds. There are probably no places in the world that are perfect for human enjoyment. With their overall pleasant environment, though, Fiji should come close.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays.

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