Located between the Philippines and Hawaii, the Marshall Islands is a collection of volcanic isles located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It may not be too long before the beautiful islands disappear though, as rising waters resulting from climate change are slowly overcoming the low-set lands.
Marshall Islands Facts
1. There are more than 1,000 islands in the peninsula.
The Marshall Islands have a total of 1,156 islands and islets, which are mostly the roofs of ancient volcanoes that have been submerged in the ocean. These total to a landmass of only 70 square miles, yet they encompass a distance of 750,000 square miles of open water.
The islands are grouped according to 29 coral atolls. One stratification is the Ratak (sunrise), which comprise of islands located in the eastern part of the archipelago. The western isles, on the other hand, are categorized under the group Ralik (sunset).
Only 24 isles are inhabited because the rest have dire living conditions. Some, on the other hand, were left contaminated due to nuclear testing. One such example is the infamous Bikini Atoll, which has been the site of multiple bomb detonations.
2. Four countries colonized or occupied the Marshall Islands.
An interesting fact about Marshall Islands is that its first colonist is the Kingdom of Spain, with Ferdinand Magellan first exploring the islands in the 1520s. Other Spaniards, such as Juan Sebastian Elcano and Alonso Salazar followed suit.
In 1885, the Marshall Islands – which were part of the Spanish East Indies – were subsequently sold to the Germans for $4.5 million. This led to the country being renamed “German New Guinea.”
During the height of World War I, the Japanese took over the islands. They yielded ownership to the United States following the Second World War. The islands were then transformed into the Pacific Proving Grounds or the sites for American nuclear testing.
While it has been granted independence by the US, the Marshall Islands continue to be in free association with the economic superpower. To date, the nation benefits from US assistance in the form of subsidies, defense, and access to certain American companies.
3. But it was the British who formally named the isles.
Before the nation was named the Marshall Islands, its title depended on who visited it. The Spaniard Alonso Salazar named the island county “Los Pintados,” mainly because of the tattooed indigenous tribes who settled there. The archipelago was also known by other Spanish names, including “Las Hermanas” (The Sisters) and “Los Jardines” (The Gardens.)
It was only several centuries after – 1788 to be exact – that it was given its modern title. The islands take their collective name after John Marshall, a British explorer who voyaged around the Pacific, a fun fact about Marshall Islands.
4. The Marshall Islands used to be the Pacific Proving Grounds.
Five days after the United Nations granted the United States Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Americans made the archipelago the heart of its nuclear testing program. Also known as the Pacific Proving Grounds, the Marshall Islands served as the area for 105 nuclear tests.
The experiments ran from 1946 to 1962. Famous explosions include the detonation of “Able” on Bikini Atoll on June 30, 1946, and the testing of “Baker” on July 24, 1946. Additionally, “Mike” – the world’s first hydrogen bomb – was detonated at the Enewetak atoll on November 1, 1952.
While the Pacific Proving Grounds demonstrated the Americans’ mastery of nuclear warfare, it came at a huge expense. For one, the fallout from the detonations has contaminated many islands, rendering some uninhabitable until now.
Cancer incidences for residents are also expected to increase by 1.6%, as some were not evacuated while active testing taking place at nearby islands. Because of these actions, the United States, following the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990, doled out $759 million for reparations.
5. The nation is home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary.
Last October 2011, the archipelago’s 772,000 square miles of water have been established as a collective shark sanctuary. This is the world’s largest, contributing to the existing 1 million square miles of shark havens throughout the planet, a fun fact about Marshall Islands.
Under such, shark fishing is banned across these waters. And should there be incidental shark catches, they need to be released to the water immediately.
6. The Marshall Islands might go underwater soon.
Climate change is a reality that’s affecting many, especially the island countries. The Marshall Islands are expected to be hit the most, granted that the country is only an average of 7 feet above sea level.
Currently, as much as 600 billion of glacial ice are melting due to a worldwide temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius. Such is gradually increasing the sea levels at a rate that may prove harmful to the Marshallese.
To make matters worse, projections state that a temperature increase of as much as 3 degrees Celsius may occur by the year 2100. This is catastrophic for the archipelago and its inhabitants, as this can lead to a rise in sea level by as much as four feet. If things continue to go this way, the Marshall Islands, as well as other peninsulas, might be submerged under the oceans in as little as 80 years from now.
7. Hilda Heine is the first female President of the Marshall Islands.
Former senator Hilda Heine is the eighth president of the republic. Historically, she is the first female to lead the islands since it gained independence from the United States in 1979. Born in 1951, the University of Hawaii alumna was formerly a teacher before she headed the Ministry of Education. She was elected in 2016 following the ousting of former president Casten Nemra.
8. The Marshall Islands ship registry is the 2nd largest in the world.
The country is the top 2 choice for shipping companies when it comes to the flag of convenience. Since Marshallese vessels need not to be owned by citizens, a lot of companies have chosen the country to be their flag state. To date, Marshall Islands is the contender behind Panama when it comes to ship registries, an interesting fact about Marshall Islands.
A former hub for nuclear testing, the Marshall Islands is facing another problem – and that is the possibility of sinking anytime soon. Because of this likelihood, the nation is busy lobbying for climate change advocacies. Hopefully, this can save their islands – and many others – from being permanently erased from the world map.
I hope that this article on Marshall Island facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!