The Marshall Islands is located in the North Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawaii and Australia. It consists of 2 archipelagic island chains, the Ratak Chain (or “sunrise” chain) and the Ralik Chain (or “sunset” chain), comprised of 29 atolls and 5 isolated islands. Each atoll is made up of many small islets. The terrain is low coral limestone and sand islands. The highest point is on Likiep Atoll at 10 meters (30 feet). Kwajalein atoll in the Ralik Chain surrounds the world’s largest lagoon. The capital, Majuro city on Majuro atoll, is one of the most densely populated locations in the Pacific.
Majuro lagoon is polluted by household waste and discharges from fishing vessels. One of the main areas of environmental concern is the inadequate supply of potable water. As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, the effects of climate change are also of great concern. Following WWII, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including one of the largest nuclear tests ever conducted. In 1952, the test of the first American hydrogen bomb “Ivy Mike” destroyed the island of Elugelab, in Enewetak atoll. In the late 1950s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission referred to the Marshall Islands as “by far the most contaminated place in the world”.
The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority is charged with facilitating the sustainable and responsible use of marine resources. The Environmental Protection Authority is concerned with integrated water resource management. Marshall Islands Senator Tony de Brum has been particularly active in bringing the issue of climate change to the attention of the United Nations as a security threat. The Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established in 1988 to settle damage awards to Marshall Island victims of secret medical experiments, known as Project 4.1.
Conventional protected areas include Bikar Atoll, Jaluit Atoll, and Namdrik Atoll. Jaluit Atoll and Namdrik Atoll are listed as a Ramsar wetlands, where Mangrove rehabilitation projects have been initiated in the context of adaptation to climate change. In 2011, the government declared the Marshall Islands National Shark Sanctuary, as the largest shark sanctuary in the world.
The original inhabitants of the Marshall Islands were Micronesian people. The Spanish first made contact in the 16th century. Spain claimed the islands in the 19th century, but “sold” them to Germany a decade later. At the outset of WWI, Japan took over control of the islands. The United States did not intervene until the epic Battle of Kwajalein late into WWII. Following WWII, the United States entered into agreement with the United Nations Security Council for administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Independence was first recognized in 1979, as the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Today, the U.S. government provides about 60 percent of the national budget of the Marshall Islands, largely due to the U.S. Army base on Kwajalein atoll, the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. Due to a Compact of Free Association with the U.S., Marshall Islands is included in the list of countries without armed forces.
Oddly enough, the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site was inscribed into World Heritage in 2010. Previously, the Northern Marshall Islands Atolls, Likiep Village Historic District, and Mili Atoll Nature Conservancy (and Nadrikdrik) had been submitted to the Tentative Lists of World Heritage in 2005. The Alele Museum, library and national archives, is located in the capital, Majuro. Waan Aelon in Majel, translated as “Canoes of the Marshall Islands”, is a cultural NGO building traditional outrigger canoes with at risk youth, as well as offering fundraising tours.
The RMI Ministry of Resources and Development oversees economic development; however, the Marshall Islands Visitors Authority is the peak body in charged with tourism. Our Airline links Majuro with Brisbane, Australia. Air Marshall Islands provides inter-island services on an ad hoc basis. The Mieco Beach Yacht Club welcomes cruising yachts to the Marshall Islands.
- Marketing cultural and heritage tourism: the Marshall Islands by FM Collison & DL Spears, 2010
- Jaluit Atoll Conservation Area, Marshall Islands: feasibility assessment & support for community ecotourism development by R Aiello, 2001
- The Archaeology of World War Two in the Marshall Islands by H Christiansen, 1994
- Marshall Islands Tourism Development Project by A Henson, 1993