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The unofficial flag of Johnston Atoll which was used to represent the island in a December 7, 2001 Pearl Harbor ceremony, the official flag for all US minor outlying islands is the US flag
Location of Johnston Atoll.
Map of the islands of Johnston Atoll, showing rim of coral reef.

Johnston Atoll is a 50-square-mile (130 km2) atoll in the North Pacific Ocean[1] about 1400 km (750 nmi) west of Hawaii. There are four islands located on the coral reef platform, two natural islands, Johnston Island and Sand Island, which have been expanded by coral dredging, as well as North Island (Akau) and East Island (Hikina), an additional two artificial islands formed by coral dredging.[1]

Johnston is an unincorporated territory of the United States, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior as part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. For statistical purposes, Johnston Atoll is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands.



Historical populations
Year Pop.  %±
1970 1,007
1980 327 −67.5%
1990 173 −47.1%

The American brig Sally, captained by Joseph Pierpont, grounded on a shoal near Johnston Island on September 2, 1796, but did not name or claim the land.[2] The island was named for Captain Charles J. Johnston, commanding officer of HMS Cornwallis, who claimed its official discovery on December 14, 1807. Johnston Atoll was claimed by both the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1858. The Atoll's guano deposits, mined by U.S. interests operating under the Guano Islands Act, were worked until depletion in about 1890.

The island was visited from July 10 to July 22, 1923, and a pioneering aerial photograph was taken then.

On July 29, 1926, by Executive Order, President Calvin Coolidge established Johnston Atoll as a Federal bird refuge and placed it under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On December 29, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred control of Johnston Atoll to the U.S. Navy in order to establish an air station, and also to the Department of the Interior to administer the bird refuge. In 1936, the U.S. Navy began to develop a seaplane base, an airstrip base, and refueling facilities on the atoll. Johnston Atoll was designated as a Naval Defensive Sea Area and Airspace Reservation on February 14, 1941. Johnston Atoll was shelled by lightly-armed Japanese submarines once or twice during World War II.

The Johnston Atoll area was used during the 1950s and 1960s as an American nuclear weapons test site - for both above-ground and underground nuclear tests. It was also used for a rocket launch site for some of the first American spy satellites. Later on, it became the site of a chemical weapons depot and the site of the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS). All of the chemical weapons that were once stored on Johnston Island have been incinerated, and that process was completed some years ago.

Between 1958 and 1975, several scientific sounding rockets were launched from Johnston Island.[3] There were also several nuclear test missiles that were launched from Johnston Island in 1962 during the "Operation Dominic" series of nuclear tests, from a launchpad at 16°44′13″N 169°31′26″W / 16.7370°N 169.5240°W / 16.7370; -169.5240. Twelve thermonuclear warheads were exploded in all, one of which failed when the PGM-17_Thor carrying it failed to launch and scattered plutonium debris over the island. Afterwards, the radioactive debris and soils were placed in a 25 acre landfill on the island, along with residue from Agent Orange containers returned from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War, PCBs, PAHs, dioxins, and sarin nerve gas from the Soviet Union and East Germany.

Growth of Johnson Island by coral dredging.

In 1963, the United States Senate ratified the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which contained a provision known as "Safeguard C". Safeguard C was the basis for maintaining Johnston Atoll as a "ready to test" above ground nuclear testing site should atmospheric nuclear testing ever be deemed to be necessary again. In 1993, Congress appropriated no funds for the Johnston Atoll "Safeguard C" mission, bringing it to a termination. Congress redefined the island's military mission as the one of the storage and destruction of chemical weapons.

Johnston Atoll has never had any indigenous inhabitants, although during the late part of the 20th century, there were averages of about 300 American military personnel and 1,000 civilian contractor men and women present at any given time.[1]

The central means of transportation to this island was the airport, which had a paved military runway. The islands were wired with 13 outgoing and 10 incoming commercial telephone lines, a 60-channel submarine cable, 22 DSN circuits by satellite, an Autodin with standard remote terminal, a digital telephone switch, the Military Affiliated Radio System (MARS station), a UHF/VHF air-ground radio, and a link to the Pacific Consolidated Telecommunications Network (PCTN) satellite. Amateur radio operators occasionally transmitted from the island, using the KH3 callsign prefix.

Johnston Atoll's economic activity was limited to providing services to American military personnel and the contractors residing temporarily on the island. All foodstuffs and manufactured goods were imported. The base had six 2.5 megawatt electrical generators supplied by the base's support contractor, Holmes and Narver, using Enterprise Engine and Machinery Company DSR-36 diesel engines. The runway was also available to commercial airlines for emergency landings (a reasonably-common event), and for many years, it was also a regular stop on Continental Micronesia airline's "island hopper" service between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands.

Approaching the runway on Johnston Island from the northeast with Sand Island partially visible on the right. The base was closed and the airport deactivated on June 15, 2004.

By the end of 2003, the legal jurisdiction of this atoll was transferred from the American military services to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. All structures and facilities, including those used in JACADS, were removed, and the runway was marked closed. On August 22, 2006, Johnston Island was struck by Hurricane Ioke. The eastern eye-wall passed directly over the atoll, with winds exceeding 100 mph (160 km/h).

On December 9, 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard swept the runway at Johnston Island of debris and used the runway in the removal and rescue of an ill Taiwanese fisherman to Oahu, Hawaii. The fisherman was transferred from the Taiwanese fishing vessel Sheng Yi Tsai No. 166 to the Coast Guard buoy tender Kukui on December 6, 2007. The fisherman was transported to the island, and then picked up by a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules rescue plane from Kodiak, Alaska.[4]

Johnston Atoll is a part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was proclaimed by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009.


Johnston Atoll - NASA NLT Landsat 7 (Visible Color) satellite image.

The four islands compose a total land mass of 2.67 km².[1] Due to the atoll's tilt, much of the reef on the south-east portion has subsided. But even though it does not have an encircling reef crest, the reef crest on the north-west portion of the atoll does provide for a shallow lagoon, with depths ranging from 3 to 10 m.

Island Original Size
1942 (ha)
Final Size
1964 (ha)
Johnston Island 19 241
Sand Island 4 9
North (Akau) Island - 10
East (Hikina) Island - 7
Johnston Atoll 23 267
Lagoon 13,000 13,000

Its climate is tropical but generally dry. North-east trade winds are consistent and there is little seasonal temperature variation.[1] With elevation ranging from sea level to 5 m/17 ft at Summit Peak, the islands contain some low-growing vegetation on mostly flat terrain and no natural fresh water resources.[1]


About 300 species of fish have been recorded from the reefs and inshore waters of the atoll. It is also visited by Green Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals. Seabird species recorded as breeding on the atoll include Bulwer's Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Christmas Shearwater, White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Red-footed Booby, Masked Booby, Great Frigatebird, Gray-backed Tern, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Black Noddy and White Tern. It is visited by migratory shorebirds, including the Pacific Golden Plover, Wandering Tattler, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling.[5]

License plates

There were no official license plates issued for use on Johnston Atoll. US Government vehicles were issued US Government license plates and private vehicles retained the plates from which they were registered. According to reputable license plate collectors, a number of "Johnston Atoll license plates" were created as souvenirs, and have even been sold on-line to collectors, but they were not officially issued. [6] [7]

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.

  1. ^ a b c d e f United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges from The World Factbook
  2. ^ American Polynesia and the Hawaiian Chain, E.H. Bryan, Jr., 1941; Honolulu, Hawaii: Tongg Publishing Company p. 35.
  3. ^ [1] Astronautix Web site, Johnston Island
  4. ^ Coast Guard Successful on Risky Medevac from Johnston Island, Coast Guard Press Release, December 10, 2007
  5. ^ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. Bird list of Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.Version 30DEC2002
  6. ^ World License Plates: License Plates of Johnston Atoll [2] (Accessed 25 July 2009)
  7. ^ Johnston Atoll [3] (Accessed 25 July 2009)

External links

Coordinates: 16°45′N 169°31′W / 16.75°N 169.517°W / 16.75; -169.517



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