About the Refuge

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Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974 by the Secretary of the Interior and expanded in 2009 to include submerged lands out to 12 nautical miles from the island. The Refuge includes 410,999 acres, of which 648 acres are terrestrial and 410,351 acres are submerged. A shallow fringing coral reef surrounds the island, but most of the submerged area is deep coral and other unexplored habitats. 


On January 6, 2009, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was established, which includes Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge within its boundaries.

The island is uninhabited, and entry is by permit only. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel visit Howland about every 2 years, though occasionally scientists and researchers team up to share transportation costs to the island more frequently. Located 1,815 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, it is only accessible by an 8-day ship voyage. 

Howland was discovered soon after 1800 AD during the whaling era. Artifacts found indicate that there may have been early Polynesian visitation. Howland was claimed for the United States under the Guano Act of 1856 by Alfred G. Benson and Charles H. Judd in 1857. A total of 85,000 to 100,000 tons of guano was removed from Howland. After guano mining had stopped, there was not a lot of visitation until 1935 during the Colonizing Era, when military personnel and Kamehameha Schools graduates were stationed on Howland Island, Baker Island, and Jarvis Island to colonize them so the United States could maintain control and establish them as territories. In 1937, a runway was built and prepped for Amelia Earhart so she could use Howland Island as a refueling station on her quest to circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, she and navigator Fred J. Noonan never made it. They were last seen July 1, 1937 when they took off from New Guinea. 

The colonization project continued until January 1942 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and several American territories, including Howland, Baker, and Jarvis. On December 8, 1941 Howland was bombed and 2 colonists were killed. Attacks also took place on December 10th and then on January 5th and 24th, 1942. Colonists on Howland and Baker Islands were not rescued until January 31, 1942 and the last colonists were not evacuated from Jarvis and Enderbury until February 9, 1942. The project and the group of young men that were assigned to these expeditions became known as the Hui Panala’au 

Howland Island was named a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974. Before then there were only a few research expeditions between the conclusion of WWII and then. In 2000, US Fish and Wildlife Service began conducting studies on board NOAA vessels. In 2002 they were scheduled to occur every 2 years.