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.
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.
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.
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