Caroline Islands, archipelago, c.830 sq mi (2,150 sq km), W Pacific, just north of the equator. The largest islands are Palau (Belau), Yap, Chuuk (Truk), Pohnpei (Ponape), and Kosrae. The islands are fertile and rich in minerals. There are deposits of phosphate, guano, bauxite, and iron; coconuts, sugarcane, and tapioca are produced. The chief exports are dried bonito, copra, and tapioca. Most of the inhabitants are Micronesian, but in the eastern islands there are some Polynesians. There is evidence of Chinese contact with the western islands in the 7th cent. a.d. The first Europeans to visit the Carolines were the Spanish in 1526, but the islands did not come under Spain's control until 1886. After the Spanish-American War the islands were sold (1899) to Germany. They were occupied in 1914 by the Japanese, who in 1920 were given a League of Nations mandate over them. Annexed to Japan in 1935, the islands were heavily bombed prior to American occupation during World War II. The Carolines were placed under U.S. administration by the United Nations in 1947, becoming part of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The islands are now divided between two separate political entities: the Federated States of Micronesia, which became independent in 1986, and Palau, which became independent in 1994; both nations have compacts of free association with the United States.
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