National Wildlife Refuge
|1,600 miles southwest of
Phone Number: 808-792-9560
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Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge
Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge, 50 miles north of the equator and 1,600 miles southwest of Honolulu, is a low, flat, sandy island with a narrow fringing reef. The refuge is over 32,000 acres, including 400-acre Howland Island. The majority of the refuge is marine habitat, including extensive coral reefs and other inshore tropical ocean habitats.
Uninhabited and vegetated only by grasses, prostrate vines, and low-growing shrubs, due to scant rainfall and intense sun, the refuge is managed primarily as nesting and roosting habitat for 10 seabird species and 8 shorebird species, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Principal species are sooty terns, gray-backed terns, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, brown boobies, masked boobies, lesser and great frigatebirds, red-tailed tropicbirds, and brown noddies. The four most common shorebird species are ruddy turnstone, Pacific golden plover, bristle-thighed curlew, and wandering tattler. Of these, the bristle-thighed curlew and Pacific golden plover are considered species of High Concern in the national conservation priority scheme for shorebirds. The island provides crucial wintering habitat and may serve as a rest stop for arctic-breeding shorebirds that winter farther south.
The refuge is part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, whose office is in Honolulu. Visitation to the refuge is by special use permit only.
Polynesians visited Howland Island prior to its discovery by European navigators, and may have used it as a stopping, resting, or gathering place during their voyages across the Pacific. Learn More>>
The refuge is closed to the public.
Human activities at Howland Island have resulted in various invasive species being introduced, including house cats, Polynesian rats, various ant and cockroach species, and plants such as pandanus, ironwood, coconut palm, sea grape, ilima, Portulaca oleracea, and Pacific crabgrass.
The rats were documented as early as 1854 and in many accounts were described as extremely abundant. Sometime after 1938, they were eliminated and have not been recorded since. Feral cats were introduced in 1937 and finally eliminated in 1985. Of the introduced plants, only Pacific crabgrass seems to have persisted.
Visiting refuge staff monitor the restoration of the seabird species the cats nearly extirpated. Due to its extremely remote location, Howland Island Refuge is only visited, on average, once every two years. Logistic support is complex and costly (over $60,000 for a vessel charter).
Therefore, staff from the complex office coordinates closely with the U.S. Coast Guard for periodic no-cost transportation to the refuge in association with their patrols of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone in the area of Howland Island. Several trips have been conducted through coordination with ham radio operators who have been permitted to broadcast from the refuge.
As part of their permit, they are required to transport at least one refuge staff member to monitor their activities. Therefore, resource values are largely maintained by natural processes. The refuge is monitored on an infrequent basis to ensure that these values have not been compromised.Learn More>>