Thursday, March 2, 2017

Baker Island: A deserted atoll in the Pacific Ocean

Halfway between Hawaii and Australia lies the lonely Baker Island, a tiny atoll with a shoreline of just 3 miles (4.8 km). The island is almost flat, with sandy terrain and four types of grass. There are no trees, fresh water or people. Baker Island is inhabited by seabirds, shorebirds, and marine wildlife, some of them endangered. 

Baker was discovered in 1818 by Captain Elisha Folger of the Nantucket whaling ship Equator, who called the island "New Nantucket". It got its final name from Michael Baker who visited the island multiple times starting from 1832. He claimed the island in 1855 and sold it to a group who later formed the American Guano Company. Two years later though, the United States government claimed Baker Island under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Baker Island remains an unincorporated and unorganized US territory till today and it's part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands.

From 1859 to 1878 the American Guano Company mined the island's guano deposits. A short-lived colonization attempt was made in 1935. A lighthouse was built along with some buildings on a settlement called Meyerton. In 1943 the US Army constructed a 5,463-foot (1,665 m) airfield that was subsequently used as a staging base by Seventh Air Force B-24 Liberator bombers for attacks on Mili Atoll. The airfield was abandoned by 1944. From 1944 to July 1946 the island hosted a LORAN radio navigation station. 

Today, debris from past human occupation -mainly from the US Army occupation - is scattered throughout the island and in offshore waters. The most noticeable of them are the abandoned airstrip which is now completely overgrown with vegetation and the island's lighthouse. There is also debris from several crashed airplanes and large equipment such as bulldozers.

From 1974 the island became part of the Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge. In January 2009, that entity was redesignated the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Baker Island is visited annually by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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