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Historically, Rangiroa has had to contend with two equally destructive threats: pirates and cyclones. Rangiroa's inhabitants sought refuge close to Motu Taeoo (Lagon Bleu), on the southwestern side of the atoll, until a cataclysm, probably a tsunami, destroyed these settlements around 1560.

Two centuries later, the population was settled around the three passes - Tivaru, Avatoru and Tiputa. Strong relations were established with the inhabitants of the other atolls of the northern Tuamotus. Anaa warriors pillaged Rangiroa at the end of the 1770s; survivors were forced into exile on Tikehau and Tahiti. They returned to Rangiroa in the early 1820s and repopulated the atoll.

It was sighted in April 1616 by Dutchman Le Maire, but Rangiroa didn't receive European settlers, missionaries, until 1851.

Copra production played a vital economic role until it was overtaken by fishing, still an important industry. There are a handful of pearl farms on Rangi as well as an oyster hatchery and a school for hopeful pearl farmers and technicians. The opening of the airport in 1965 boosted tourism, which has been big business since the 1980s.