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Today we passed within 40 miles of Johnston Atoll. The Atoll hosts a U.S. military outpost involved in, among other things, disposing of WMDs. I’ve attached two brief articles to this blog: An article by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and an article by InfoPlease, an online information source. As these articles indicate, Johnston is an interesting place, but for many years to come it will remain strictly off limits to casual visitors.

Here’s the U.S. Fish and Game article:

“Johnston Atoll is one of the most isolated atolls in the world, is located in the central Pacific Ocean, between the Hawaiian Islands and the Marshall Islands. It is located about 700 miles southwest of Hawaii.

“The formation of Johnston Atoll began about 70 million years ago, when repeated submarine volcanic eruptions built up layer upon layer of basaltic lava from the floor of the ocean to its surface.

“Over millions of years, the island slowly eroded and subsided. As the island sank beneath the surface of the ocean, corals around its fringes continued to grow. Today, Johnston Atoll is a broad, shallow platform of about 50 square miles with four islands – Johnston, Sand, North, and East, and a marginal, emergent reef only on its northwest side.

“This atoll was discovered accidentally in 1796 by Captain Joseph Pierpoint when his ship, the American brig Sally, ran aground. However, it was not until 1807 when the crew of the frigate HMS Cornwallis sighted the atoll and named the larger island after that ship’s captain, Charles J. Johnston.

“In 1926, Johnston Island and Sand Island were designated as a federal bird refuge. In 1934, President Roosevelt placed the atoll under U.S. Navy control, but retained its status as a refuge. In 1936, the Navy began the first of many changes to the atoll. By 1964, dredge and fill operations had increased the size of Johnston Island to 596 acres from its original 46 acres, also increased Sand Island from 10 to 22 acres, and added two new islands, North and East of 25 and 18 acres.

“As the only shallow water and emergent land in hundreds of thousands of square miles of surrounding ocean, Johnston Atoll is an oasis for reef and bird life. Corals and coralline algae are responsible for the existence of the atoll. These algae capture the sun’s energy as plants on land do and, through the process of photosynthesis, provide their coral hosts with organic carbon as a source of food. There are 33 known species of coral at Johnston Atoll; the most conspicuous species is the large table coral.

“Slightly more than 300 species of fish have been recorded from the reefs and near shorewaters of Johnston Atoll. Three species of marine animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the green sea turtle, the Hawaiian monk seal, and the humpback whale.

“Seabirds are the most noticeable form of wildlife on Johnston Island NWR and are among the longest-lived birds in the world; life spans in excess of 30 years are common for some species. Shearwaters and petrels belong to a highly distinctive group of marine birds that are readily identified by their hooked bills and also by their nostrils, which are sheathed in horny tubes arising near the base of the bill.

“Tropicbirds, frigatebirds and boobies are medium-sized to large birds, distantly related to pelicans. All have webbing between all four toes, instead of three as in most other seabirds. Terns are small to medium-sized with narrow, graceful wings and thin, sharp bills. They feed by plunging or snatching prey from the surface of the water. The common term noddy comes from the stereotyped head-nodding courtship displays between adults.

Now here’s the far less flattering InfoPlease article:

“Johnston is a coral atoll about 700 mi southwest of Hawaii. It consists of four small islands—Johnston Island, Sand Island, Hikina Island, and Akau Island—which lie on a 9-mile-long reef. The atoll was discovered by Capt. Charles James Johnston of HMS Cornwallis in 1807. In 1858 it was claimed by Hawaii, and it later became a U.S. possession. Johnston Atoll was used by the U.S. Air Force to conduct test launchings of nuclear missiles and contains a landfill of plutonium-contaminated waste. More than four million pounds of chemical weapons have been destroyed on Johnston since 1990, and the U.S. military has been fined several times since then for improperly handing VX and sarin gas and releasing the deadly substances on the atoll. The military is gradually departing and the atoll will be turned into a wildlife refuge. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the atoll’s inheritor, is concerned about the possibility of eventual radioactive leakage.”



1 Comment so far

  1. George Colovos, Sr. on May 16, 2007 7:50 pm

    I’ve been having a tough time finding you.Finally put (The) in front and here you are. Will be looking forward to watching your progress.

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