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Howland Island
National Wildlife Refuge

1,600 miles southwest of
Honolulu, HI   
E-mail: Pacific_Reefs@fws.gov
Phone Number: 808-792-9560
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
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Howland Island's first European discoverer remains unknown. At least three whaling vessels sighted or visited it in the early 19th century. Captain Daniel McKenzie of the New Bedford whaler Minerva Smith gave the island its present name, after the owners of his ship. However, Captain George Netcher of the whaling vessel Isabella is generally credited with naming the island in 1842. Thus, Howland Island appears to have been named Howland on two separate occasions.

The American Guano Company claimed the island in 1857, and mining began in 1861. Guano is essentially bird droppings, which were used as fertilizer. Guano mining peaked between 1870 and 1872 when, during a 4 month period in 1870, 7,600 tons of guano were off-loaded from the islnad in 109 working days, setting a record for guano mining in those days. An estimated 85,000 to 100,000 tons were removed in all. Evidence of the mining remians as large basins from mining excavations and mounds of low-grade guano. When the guano deposits were exhausted, Howland appears to have been abandoned from 1891 until 1935.

In the late 1930s, Howland served as a stop for planes flying between Hawaii and Australia. Colonizing efforts began in 1935. The colonists erected Itascatown as a permanent settlement. Other structures for food, water storage, radio equipment, and walls around the main settlement were constructed.

In 1937, an airfield with three runways was built for refueling on the round-the-world flight of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Earhart and Noonan were lost while en route from New Guinea. Earhart Light is a day beacon near the middle of the west coast. It was partially destroyed during World War II but has been rebuilt.

U.S. civilians were evacuated in early 1942 after Japanese air and naval attacks during World War II. In late 1943, U.S. forces reoccupied, but the island was abandoned after the war. Recent issues include abandoned World War II military debris and trespass by commercial fishing vessels and their helicopters.

Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge was established on June 27, 1974

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