The Cook Islands comprises 15 islands of which 12 are inhabited. The total land area is 240 square kilometers dispersed over an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.8 million square kilometers in the Southern Pacific Ocean.
The Cook Islands may be divided into two main geographical regions: Southern Group islands and Northern Group islands. All islands outside Rarotonga (capital of the Cook Islands) are referred to as the Outer Islands. Rarotonga and the Southern Group islands are generally younger volcanic islands, while the Northern Group is low lying coral atolls.
The total population of the Cook Islands was 19,103 in December 1996, at the time of the last Census. Of that number, residents numbered 18,071 while the number of visitors was 1,032. Since 1996 the resident population has decreased dramatically, due to economic crisis and the restructuring of government. Based primarily on migration statistics and presume birth and death rates, the Cook Island Statistics Office estimates the resident population at the end of December 2000 at 13,700. This is a decline of 4,371 from 1996 or a reduction of resident population by 24%.