Thursday, December 07, 2006

Howland Island - Small Island, Big History

Howland Island is a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean that belongs to the United States. It is currently part of the United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges Complex. It is about about three times the size of The Mall in Washington, DC. It is 1,830 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, about half way between Hawaii and Australia.

The island is rather unexciting. It consists pf scattered vegetation consisting of grasses, prostrate vines, and low growing shrubs. It is primarily a nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for seabirds, shorebirds, and marine wildlife. It has scant rainfall, constant wind, and burning sun.

Despite all of this, Howland Island actually has a rather exciting history. It was discovered in the 19th century and was heavily mined for guano. In the 1930s. an attempt was made to colonize the island with American settlers from Hawaii. However, the Japanese bombed the colony in 1941 and the civilian population was evacuated. American troops were stationed on the island until the end of World War Two.

Probably the most historic event was that Howland Island was Amelia Earhart's final destination. In 1937, Earhart and Fred Noonan attempted to fly around the world. They left Lae, New Guinea on June 29 for Howland Island but never arrived. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was at Howland Island assigned to guide Earhart to the island once she arrived in the vicinity. Earhart and Noonan never arrived.

A day beacon at Howland Island was Earhart Light in her honor. It was partially destroyed during World War II in the Japanese attacks, but was later rebuilt. It is reportedly not in good shape today after years of neglect.

Earhart Light and the crumbling remains of the buildings from the failed colony can still be found on Howland Island. Historians though will have trouble visiting the island. There is no airfield at the island anymore and the remoteness of the island makes it hard to visit by ship. Public visits to Howland Island is by special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only and is generally restricted to scientists and educators. However, if you decide to trespass illegally, you probably will not get caught as the Wildlife Services only visits the island once a year.

4 comments:

Phidippides said...

Interesting about this island. I believe there are quite a few deserted islands in the South Pacific, though it's always interesting to hear about it when the U.S. has some for of governing authority over one.

Peter Casier said...

Interesting... Brought back memories as I went to Howland on an expedition in 1993. I described it in my eBook (which is also a log of the expeditions to Peter I island and Clipperton Island): http://verslaafdaandehorizon.blogspot.com ...
You can also read a story about my near-drowning on Howland :-) at http://theroadtothehorizon.blogspot.com (look for the blog called 'How Cigarettes Once Saved my Life' ) :-))

Peter

J. R. Bailey said...

saw Howland Island/wondered where is it? computers are grand. Nice learning something else!

Anonymous said...

MY NAME IS MARK HOWLAND MY FAMILY WAS ALWAYS WONDERING HOW IT GOT ITS NAME . WE ALWAY CALL IT OUR ISLAND IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC