About the Expedition

On January 21, 2010, scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (CRED/PIFSC), along with visiting scientists from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego State University, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and local agencies in American Samoa, departed on a three month expedition to Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands, American Samoa, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef aboard the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai. This is the fifth biennial Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) expedition to American Samoa and the seventh to the Pacific Remote Island Areas. The expedition is sponsored by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and is divided into three segment sequentially led by Chief Scientists Benjamin Richards, Rusty Brainard and Jamison Gove.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Johnston Atoll – extreme isolation

by Beth Flint and Lee Ann Woodward Biologists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tomorrow we will arrive at Johnston Atoll, a remarkable place due to its extreme isolation in the largest ocean in the world.  This tiny spot in the Pacific is critically important to a community of organisms that need shallow water or land to live during at least part of their life cycle. Johnston is the only emergent land in approximately 450,000 square miles of deep ocean. Thus organisms, such as seabirds like the Sooty Tern or the Red-footed Booby, that can forage at sea but need to breed on land or organisms such as Green Turtles, that rely on benthic algae for food, converge at this lonely atoll.  Our jobs during the terrestrail portion of this visit are to estimate population sizes of nesting seabirds, identify and map plant species, and survey and monitor some of the remnants of various human uses of Johnston through the years.

President Calvin Coolidge recognized the atoll’s importance as a wildlife site and designated Johnston Island a National Wildlife Refuge back in 1926. In 1934 President Roosevelt added a military mission to the area and for the next 70 years the government used the atoll in a variety of capacities; as a base during Viet Nam, for the testing of nuclear weapons, and for the storage and disposal of chemical weapons.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s there were as many as two thousand people living at Johnston. The main island at Johnston was originally about 64 acres, however, it was enlarged in various dredge and fill operations to its present size of about 633 acres.  In addition to enlarging the existing islands, the military also created two new islands, North (Akau) and East (Hikina). The dredging destroyed some of the extensive coral reefs but much remains. The military has ended their mission at Johnston and departed the atoll in 2004 after several years of clean-up activities.  Now Johnston has been returned to the wildlife that had it in the beginning and where there once were buildings, seabirds are again.

In January of 2009 President George W. Bush expanded protection of the waters around Johnston Atoll out to 50 miles as part of the new Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Fifteen kinds of seabirds are once again nesting in great profusion at Johnston, in shrubs, on the ground like these Sooty Terns, and underground in burrows and rock crevices. The thing they all have in common is that they feed hundreds of miles out to sea but come here to lay their eggs and feed their chicks.


  1. It would be great to see more pictures of your visit to Johnston Atoll - are they posted anywhere?

  2. I was there in 1969. The diving was incredible.