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Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

small state map showing location

Johnston Island, Pacific Islands


History

Johnston Atoll was discovered accidentally on September 2, 1796, by Captain Joseph Pierpoint when his ship, the American Brig SALLY, ran aground. Lt. William Smith of HMS CORN-WALLIS named the larger island for his ship's captain, Charles J. Johnston, after sighting it briefly on December 14, 1807.

Johnston Atoll was one of 30 central Pacific islands claimed by the United States under the Guano Act of 1856. It granted Americans the privilege of removing guano (the accumulation of seabird excrement) for use as a rich fertilizer.

In 1923, the Biological Survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bishop Museum visited Johnston during a scientific expedition. Their findings resulted in President Calvin Coolidge's Executive Order 4467, which designated the islands as a bird refuge. In 1934 by Executive Order 6935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed the atoll under the U.S. Navy, while retaining the earlier provisions for the refuge.

In 1936, the Navy began the first of many changes to the atoll. By 1964 dredge and fill operations had brought the size of Johnston Island to 625 acres form its original 46 acres, increased Sand Island from 10 to 22 acres, and added two man-made island, North(Akau) and East(Hikina) of 25 and 18 acres, respectively.

Today, Johnston Atoll remains an unincorporated territory of the United States with operational control held by the Defense Nuclear Agency. The atoll is maintained as a storage and destruction site for chemical weapons being destroyed under international treaty. In July 1990, the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System(JACADS) was completed. It is a test plant engaged in the incineration of chemical weapons stored at Johnston. It is closely monitored and complies with all federal environmental laws and regulations. To ensure JACADS does not harm the atoll's sensitive environment, the Department of Defense funds numerous environmental studies and a marine research laboratory. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains biologists on the atoll to advise the military and monitor the wildlife and human activities.


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