The atoll consists of four islets (îles), with a dense atoll forest and a very shallow lagoon, supporting numerous bird species. The island is uninhabited now, but at one time was the site of a penal colony. Copra is occasionally harvested at the island.
The Îles Maria should not be confused with Maria Atoll in the Gambier Islands, also in French Polynesia, which is sometimes differentiated with the name "Maria Est" (East). There is also another island once known as Hull Island in the Phoenix Islands, which is now known as Orona.
According Polynesian legend, the uninhabited island was discovered by Chief Ama'itera'i of Rurutu in ancient times.:558 It was made a place of exile by King Teuruarii IV and his mother and regent Taarouru.:138 The island was also claimed by the neighboring island kingdom of Rimatara. The territorial dispute wouldn't be settled until 1937, when two of the four atolls were award to each party.:108-109 This atoll is named for the whaler Maria, who sighted the island in 1824, It was captained by George Washington Gardner, a Nantucket sea captain (1778-1838).
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