Johnston Atoll

Main attractions

Brown Boobies, Johnston Atoll
Brown boobies on the stacks of old pier / Lindsey Hayes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, / CC BY 2.0

Johnston Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States. This is very isolated place – a small group of four islands, heavily transformed by human activity and sadly... serving as a site where lots of REALLY dirty and dangerous military experiments have taken place.

Two islands – Johnston Island and Sand Island – are natural but are expanded and modified by dredging. Two islands – North Island and East Island – are artificial, formed by the dredging of the coral stone from the bed of lagoon next to them.


Guano was mined here until depletion sometimes around 1890. In 1926 this atoll was declared to be a bird refuge but already in 1934 birds had to share the island with US Navy.

In the 1950s – 1960s poor birds had to experience tests of nuclear weapons, then these remote islands were used for launching satellites. There happened accidents ("Starfish" on June 19, 1962 and "Bluegill Prime" on 25 July 1962) when the islands and ocean near them was sprinkled with a debris of plutonium and other radioactive materials. This highly hazardous debris was collected from the islands and stored. Later this storage site was supplemented with chemical weapons from the whole world.

Hardtack - Teak, nuclear blast above Johnston Atoll in 1958
Operation Hardtack - Teak, nuclear blast 76.8 km above Johnston Atoll in 1958 / US government, / public domain

Islands were never inhabited, but in the second half of the 20th century here was located large military basis with more than 1 000 people. Since 2004 these activities have been seriously downsized and now the atoll is becoming more and more silent.


In spite of all the massive human impact, Johnston Atoll is rich with marine life – including more than 300 species of fish and 54 species of corals. Here live endemic animals, such as Nahacky’s Angelfish (Centropyge nahackyi) and ostracod crustaceans Parasterope pacifica and Bruuniella beta.

List of described attractions

Map of Johnston Atoll

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