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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Insular Affairs
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Johnston Island



In 1796, Johnston Island, the atoll's major island, was sighted by the American Brig "Sally" of Boston. The island was named for Captain James Johnston who claimed its official discovery on December 10, 1807. The United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii both annexed the island in1858. Johnston Island was annexed into the United States as a guano island under the Guano Act of 1856.

A large amount of guano was removed from the atoll between the late 1850's and the early1900's. However, until 1936, the atoll was uninhabited except for visits by guano miners and military personnel.

On July 29, 1926, by Executive Order 4467, President Coolidge established the Johnston Atoll as a Federal bird refuge and placed it under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On December 29, 1934, Executive Order 6935 transferred control of Johnston Atoll to the U.S. Navy 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 developing a seaplane base, an airstrip and refueling facilities on the atoll. These served as an important link between Hawaii and the western Pacific during the Second World War. The atoll was fortified during the war and used as a supply point for submarines.

The Secretary of the Navy agreed to transfer operational control of Johnston Atoll to the U.S. Air Force on July 1, 1948, to be used as nuclear testing. The Department of the Air Force signed an agreement with the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) on July 1, 1973, to administer host-management of the island.

Political Status
Johnston Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. It was designated as a Naval Defensive Sea Area and Airspace Reservation on February 14, 1941, by Executive Order 8682. An Air Force memorandum of understanding of May 30, 1973, transferred host management to the DNA. On June 22, 1973, DNA now called Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) took responsibility for the operational control of Johnston Atoll.

Use of the facilities by DTRA is covered by an U.S. Air Force permit. The Loran station at Johnston Atoll is closed. No local government exists. The resident military commander of Johnston Island acts as the atoll's civil administrator for the Defense Nuclear Agency.

Johnston Atoll consists of a nine-mile reef, two highly modified natural islands, Johnston and Sand, and two completely man-made islands, North and East. The area of the atoll totals about one square mile in surface and is located in the Pacific Ocean 717 miles west-southwest of Honolulu, midway between Honolulu and Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands.

Military occupation and construction has drastically altered Johnston Island; little of the original habitat remains. Military construction operations leveled Johnston Island, enlarged it to 211 acres, and built another islet connecting it to Sand Island by a narrow causeway. The present surfaces of Johnston, North, East, and Sand Islands consists of hard-packed coral material. The terrain is mostly flat with a maximum elevation of four meters.

Although the oceanic region in which the atoll lies is relatively unproductive, life is abundant in the atoll itself. Approximately 194 species of inshore fishes, along with sea turtles are recorded in the atoll and 500,000 seabirds use the atoll for roosting and nesting.

Climate is windy and warm with an average temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit. It is relatively dry with an average annual rainfall of 26 inches.

Transportation Facilities
Johnston Island has a 6,100 foot runway.

For Additional Information
Access is restricted to military personnel supporting base operations. The residing military commander of Johnston Island acts as the agent for DTRA. Permission to disembark on Johnston Island must be obtained from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Office of the General Counsel, 6801 Telegraph Road, Room 109, Alexandria, Virginia 22310-3398; telephone: (703) 325-7681.

Pet Quarantine
All plants and animals are strictly prohibited at Johnston Atoll in order to preclude introduction of alien species to the fragile island ecosystem.

Emergency Contact
Any problems should be reported to the residing military commander of the island.


Johnston Atoll