Howland Island is an uninhabited atoll located just north of the equator in the central Pacific Ocean at 0°48′ N 176°38′ W, about 3,100 km (1,675 nautical miles) southwest of Honolulu. It is about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia and is an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States.
Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge consists of the 455 acre (1.84 km²) island and the surrounding 32,074 acres (129.80 km²) of submerged land. The island is now a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an insular area under the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The island has no economic activity and is perhaps best known as the island that Amelia Earhart never reached. Defense is the responsibility of the United States and the island is visited annually by the U.S. Coast Guard.
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Sparse remnants of trails and other artifacts indicate a sporadic early Polynesian presence but Howland Island was uninhabited when the United States took possession of it in 1857 through claims under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Its guano deposits were mined by American and British companies during the second half of the 19th century. In 1935, a short-lived attempt at colonization was begun with a rotating population of four young civilians from Hawaii in the settlement Itascatown (a cluster of no more than two or three small structures named after the U.S. Coast Guard vessel that brought them and made regular visits during that era). Similar projects were started on nearby Baker Island and on Jarvis Island, but these were disrupted by World War II and abandoned.
Howland Island was a refueling stop for American pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on their round-the-world flight in 1937. They took off for the island from Lae, New Guinea, but were never seen again.
A Japanese air attack killed two of the colonists at the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II and the two survivors were evacuated in early 1942. The island was then occupied by the U.S. military but abandoned after the war. Public entry to the island is by special-use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only and is generally restricted to scientists and educators.
See also: History of the Pacific Islands
Located in the North Pacific Ocean at (0°48′ N 176°38′ W), the island is tiny at just 1.84 km² (455 acres) and 6.4 km of coastline. The island has an elongated shape on a north-south axis. The climate is equatorial, with little rainfall and a burning sun. Temperatures are moderated somewhat by a constant wind. The terrain is low-lying and sandy: a coral island surrounded by a narrow fringing reef with a depressed central area. The highest point is three meters above sea level.
There are no natural fresh water resources. The island is almost totally covered with grasses along with prostrate vines and low-growing shrubs. For many years descriptions of the island mentioned a small group of trees at its center but a visitor accompanying a scientific expedition in 2000 reported seeing "a flat bulldozed plain of coral sand, without a single tree" and some traces of building ruins. Howland is primarily a nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for seabirds, shorebirds, and marine wildlife. The U.S. claims an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km) and a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22 km).
There are no ports or harbors. The reefs may cause a hazard. There is one boat landing area along the middle of the west coast. An airstrip was constructed in 1937 for a scheduled refuelling stop for Amelia Earhart's ill-fated flight. The facility was seldom if ever used, suffered repeated damage during World War II and has all but disappeared.
Earhart Light is a striped day beacon (or navigational landmark) near the boat landing at the middle of the west coast. It was partially destroyed during World War II by a Japanese air attack, but was later rebuilt and named in Earhart's memory. By 2000 the Earhart beacon was said to be crumbling and hadn't been painted in decades.
Alternate Internet History
Howland and neighboring Baker and Jarvis Islands are the subject an Internet-based alternate history hoax developed by Stephen Abbott, a political consultant and apparently prolific author in this genre.
Abbott's fictional Official Government Website of the Republic of Howland Baker and Jarvis describes (mostly without photography) a populated, thriving tourist destination on Howland and Baker Islands, including a faked CIA World Factbook entry, elaborate information on travel and tourism as well as imaginary air and sea travel information. Abbott gives this fiction its greatest depth with an alternate history and government, complete with a constitution and supplemented by simulated local news coverage.
Although the website does contain an explanation and disclaimer, it is diminutively linked, vaguely titled (Too good to be true? Click here and find out.) and often missed by casual visitors, leading to ongoing confusion among Internet users.
- Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Howland Island day beacon
- Geography, history and nature on Howland Island
- 'Voyage of the Odyssey' – pictures and travelogue
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