Navigating the Sea of Islands

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of the world's three major oceans. It occupies approximately one third of the earth's surface and is a remote and impenetrable hemisphere of water, difficult to access from other parts of the globe and a barrier to early European exploration.

This sea of over 20,000 islands remained largely unlnown to Europeans until 500 years ago when Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator, encountered it while searching for a westerly route to the Spice Islands. Magellan became the first European to sail across the Pacific and circumnavigate the globe in 1520-1521.

Of course the Pacific Islands had been occupied for more than 3,000 years before Magellan's epic journey. The forebears of today's inhabitants had migrated from Asia across the vast ocean by canoe using complex seafaring skills based on their knowledge of ocean currents, wind and tides.

The history of the Pacific is one of voyaging and migration. For Pacific Islanders, the ocean was not a barrier but a highway and a source of culture and connection.

Find out about collections in the Pacific Research Archives at