The Federated States of Micronesia may be little more than a series of tiny dots sprinkled across the Pacific, but one of this chain of islands has launched an ambitious development plan designed to attract thousands of new visitors to its pristine lagoons, jungles and outlying islands.

Known as the Garden Island of Micronesia, Pohnpei is the largest island in the federation and is famous for having an interior that is among the wettest in the world, fantastic diving opportunities and the mysterious, prehistoric ruins of Nan Madol.

The nation celebrated the 24th anniversary of its independence on November 3rd with President Emanuel Mori hosting a reception in Tokyo, where he was paying a state visit. High on the list of priorities for his young country, he said, is promoting tourism.

Pohnpei is aiming to promote itself as an alternative destination to such well-established resort islands as Hawaii, Guam and Bali, and hopes to use its pristine natural environment and eco-tourism opportunities to bring in new visitors.

The U.S. and Japan will be key markets, but additional flight options throughout the Pacific region, plus the enlarged airport, will increase opportunities for travellers.

Japan is presently helping to fund an extension to the airport on Pohnpei, which will permit large passenger aircraft to land. This opens up the possibility of direct air links between the island and Tokyo as well as Honolulu, both of which are expected to act as gateways for tourists wanting to visit this unspoiled and undeveloped corner of the world.

"I sincerely hope that some of you who are here tonight will be part of history in the making as passengers of the first direct flight from Japan to FSM next summer," President Mori told the guests invited to the anniversary event.

Work on the $30 million runway extension has been slightly delayed, according to government officials, but work on the new terminal at Pohnpei's airport is making progress and is expected to be completed by March.

The island's tourism industry has been given another boost by the return to service of the MS Caroline Voyager.

The vessel underwent extensive refurbishment work over a period of two months, in part paid for by a donation of $500,000 worth of materials from Japan.

"We also hope and expect to have in place a number of new vessels to facilitate travel to some of the outer islands," said Judy Mahan, a spokeswoman accompanying the president on his visit to Japan. "We believe that eco-tourism will be a huge plus to the region and the outlying islands are beautiful and have no development. That is pretty rare to find."

Proposals for a casino on the island are also under review, with members of the Pohnpei government recently visiting a number of Pacific islands that already have casinos for talks with local officials and operators to determine the likely impact of any new casino project.

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