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Kingman Reef
Map of Kingman Reef.
Owned by United States
Claimed under Guano Islands Act
Island Type Coral, limestone
Discovered 1789
Claimed for
United States
May 10, 1922
Discovered by Edmund Fanning
Area 0.01 km²
Population 0
Island Group Northern Line Islands (Fanning's Group)
Southeast part of Kingman Reef, looking north.
Orthographic projection over Kingman Reef.

Kingman Reef (pronounced /ˈkɪŋmən/) is a largely submerged, uninhabited tropical atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean, roughly half way between the Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa at 6°24′N 162°24′W / 6.4°N 162.4°W / 6.4; -162.4Coordinates: 6°24′N 162°24′W / 6.4°N 162.4°W / 6.4; -162.4. It is the northernmost of the Northern Line Islands and lies 65 kilometres (40 mi) north-north-west of the next closest island (Palmyra Atoll), and about 920 nautical miles (1,700 km) south of Honolulu.

The reef partly encloses a lagoon 73 meters deep, with the greater depths in the western part. At times, its shoreline might reach three kilometers in circumference; the total area within the outer rim of the reef is 76 km². There is just one small strip of dry land on the eastern rim, with an area of less than 10m²/30 ft². The highest point on the reef is about 1 meter above sea level and wetted or awash most of the time, making Kingman Reef a maritime hazard. It has no natural resources, is uninhabited, and supports no economic activity.

Dry strip of land on Kingman Reef, October 2003. Note Coconut Palm seedling.


Political status

Kingman Reef has the status of an unincorporated territory of the United States, administered from Washington, DC by the U.S. Navy. The atoll is closed to the public. For statistical purposes, Kingman Reef is grouped as part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. In January 2009, Kingman Reef was designated a marine national monument.

The pre-20th century names Danger Reef, Caldew Reef, Maria Shoal and Crane Shoal refer to this atoll, which by then was still entirely submerged at high tide. Thomas Hale Streets described its state in the 1870s, when it had

"... hardly, as yet, assumed the distinctive features of an island. It is entirely under water at high tide, and but a few coral heads project here and there above the surface at low water. In the course of time, however, it will undoubtedly be added to the [northern Line Islands]." [1]


NASA NLT Landsat 7 true-color photo of Kingman Reef.

Kingman Reef was discovered in by the American Captain Edmund Fanning of the ship Betsey. Captain W. E. Kingman (whose namesake the island bears) described it in 1853. It was claimed for the United States under the name "Danger Reef" under the Guano Islands Act of 1856.[2]

Lorrin A. Thurston formally annexed Kingman to the United States on May 10, 1922 when reading this declaration on shore:

"Be it known to all people: That on the tenth of May, A.D. 1922, the undersigned agent of the Island of Palmyra Copra Co., Ltd., landed from the motorship Palmyra doth, on this tenth day of May, A.D. 1922, take formal possession of this island, called Kingman Reef, situated in longitude 162 degrees 18' west and 6 degrees 23' north, on behalf of the United States of America and claim the same for said company."

The lagoon was used in 1937 and 1938 as a halfway station between Hawai'i and American Samoa by Pan American Airways flying boats (Boeing 314). In 1937, Pan Am had plans to anchor the ship North Wind as a floating tanker at Kingman and use the reef as a stopover for its flying boats on the route to New Zealand. It served as the base for the Sikorsky Clipper and the Samoan Clipper, captained by Edwin C. Musick, who made five successful landings in the lagoon in 1937 and 1938. The idea was abandoned as Pan Am found that the costs of supporting a mostly idle tanker ship prohibitive.[3] There were also concerns that comfortable overnight accommodations would not be available in the event of a mechanical breakdown. As a result, Pan Am switched to Canton Island on May 18, 1939 and began services to New Zealand on July 12, 1940.


Amateur radio expeditions

Since the early 1940s Kingman Reef has had very little human contact, though amateur radio operators from around the world have occasionally visited the reef to put it "on the air" in what is known as a DX-pedition. In 1974, a group of amateurs using the callsign KP6KR sailed to the reef and set up a temporary radio station and antenna tower. Other groups visited the island in subsequent years, including 1977, 1980, 1981, 1988 and 1993.

Most recently, a group of 15 amateur radio operators from the Palmyra DX Group visited the reef in October 2000. Using the FCC-issued special event callsign K5K, the group made more than 80,000 individual contacts with amateurs around the world over a period of 10 days. [4]


Kingman Reef supports a vast variety of marine life below its surface. The ecosystem of the reef and its subsequent food chain are known for their distinct quality of being primarily predator-based. The percentage of the total fish biomass on the reef is made up of 85% predatorial hunters, creating a high level of competition for food and nutrients among local organisms — particularly sharks and other carnivores.

Above sea level the reef is often barren of macroorganisms, however. Mainly constructed of dead and dried coral skeletons, providing most only calcite as a source of nutrients, the small and narrow strips of dry land are only habitable by a handful of species within short periods of time. Most flora which begin to grow above water —primarily coconut palms, if any— die out quickly due to the fierce tides and lack of resources necessary to sustain plant life.

See also


  1. ^ Streets (1877): p.65
  2. ^ Bryan (1941): p.154
  3. ^ Oates, Carl (2002). Canton Island - Aerial Crossroads of the Pacific. McLean, Virginia: Paladwr Press. pp. 55. ISBN 1888962216.  
  4. ^


  • Bryan, E.H. Jr. (1941): American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain (1st ed.). Tongg Publishing Company, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Streets, Thomas H. (1877): Some Account of the Natural History of the Fanning Group of Islands. Am. Nat. 11(2): 65-72. First page image

External links


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