Maluku (Moluccas), a region of Indonesia formerly known as the Spice Islands, was once the source of cloves and nutmeg, spices highly valued for their aroma, preservative ability, and use in medicine before people learned how to cultivate the plants in other parts of the world. Maluku is a cluster of about one thousand islands totaling 74,504 square kilometers, forming part of the Malay Archipelago in eastern Indonesia near New Guinea. The region is divided into two provinces, Maluku with its capital in Ambon, and North Maluku (2002 estimated population 913,000), with its capital in Ternate; other important islands in the group include Halmahera, Seram, and Buru.
Its approximately 1000 islands support a population of less than 1.7 million people. The average population density figure is 19 people per-square kilometer, but the distribution is uneven. Air and sea transportation is the main means, which link the islands together. The province has 32 seaports and 20 airports, and only about 160 km of roads. However, good roads on many of the islands provide easy access to the often-remote places of tourists' interest.
Maluku lies in the transition zone between Asiatic and Australian flora and fauna and has a tropical climate. Maluku's flora includes meranti trees and many kinds of orchids; distinctive fauna includes cuscuses, birds of paradise, wild goats, and parrots. The economy is based on subsistence agriculture, especially sago (the sago palm, producing a starch used in food), and on the export of such products as spices, cacao, coffee, coconuts, fish, and minerals. Important indigenous groups include the Ambonese.
A great variety of endemic plant and animal species are found in the rugged forest-covered and mountainous hinterlands of most of the islands. A few of the best known are the Rucker-tailed kingfisher, the red-crested Moluccan cockatoo, and various brilliantly colored lorikeets and parrots. Most of Maluku sits astride one of the world's most volatile volcanic belts.