22 interesting facts about the Marshall Islands

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The most interesting facts about the Marshall Islands, from hosting dozens of nuclear weapons tests to the world’s largest shark sanctuary.

Nuclear testing accounts for several interesting facts about the Marshall Islands
Nuclear testing accounts for several interesting facts about the Marshall Islands (Public Domain)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of the Marshall Islands
Capital city: Majuro
Population: 77,917
Area: 181 sq km
Major languages: Marshallese, English
Time zone: UTC+12 (Marshall Islands Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about the Marshall Islands

1. The Marshall Islands are an island nation in Oceania made up of around 1,225 islands and islets. Of these, 29 are atolls and five are isolated islands.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

2. Around 2000 BC, the first Micronesian navigators arrived in the Marshall Islands and named the atolls Aelon Kein Ad, which means “our islands”.
– Source: BBC News

3. The islands are also made up of 870 reef systems and 160 species of coral.
– Source: United Nations

Coral reef in the Marshall Islands
Coral reef in the Marshall Islands (Shutterstock)

4. Between 1521 and 1529, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and Spaniard Miguel de Saavedra became the first Europeans to visit the islands.
– Source: BBC News

5. The Marshall Islands were ruled by foreign powers for centuries. In 1592, Spain lay formal claim to the islands; in 1885 Germany annexed the islands; in 1914 Japan captured the islands; in 1944 US forces captured the islands.
– Source: BBC News, BBC News

6. The islands were given their name by British Naval Captain John William Marshall who sailed through the area in 1788 with convicts bound for New South Wales.
– Source: BBC News

7. The Marshall Islands have a unique flag consisting of a blue background with diagonal stripes of orange and white that increase in size towards the upper right corner. A large white star is also depicted.
– Source: Britannica

8. The blue background represents the Pacific Ocean, the white stripe signifies brightness and the orange stripe signifies bravery and wealth. The two stripes also represent the nearby equator. The 24-point star represents the 24 municipalities of the country, with the four longer points representing the capital atoll and the three administrative centres of the subdistricts.
– Source: Britannica

The national flag
The national flag of the Marshall Islands (Shutterstock)

9. From 1947 to 1994, the Marshall Islands were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), a United Nations trust territory administered by the USA.
– Source: Encyclopedia.com

10. In 1986, the Marshall Islands finally gained complete independence after adopting its constitution in 1979. The country joined the United Nations in 1991.
– Source: United Nations

11. The USA still controls the security and defence of the Marshall Islands and provides millions of dollars in aid annually. The USA also rents the Kwajalein atoll as a base and missile test range.
– Source: BBC News

12. As such, the Marshall Islands is one of just 22 countries not to have a military. As a former US-administered territory, the Marshall Islands did not found an army after gaining independence. Instead, the USA is responsible for its defence.
– Source: The Atlantic

13. The atolls of Bikini and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands were used for extensive nuclear weapons testing between 1946 and 1958. In total, the US detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands, as well as 12 biological weapons tests.
– Source: LA Times

13. In 1954, the largest nuclear-weapons test up to that point was undertaken in the Marshall Islands. The hydrogen bomb test, known as “Castle Bravo”, was also the first hydrogen bomb to be dropped from a plane.
– Source: The Atlantic

14. To clean up the contamination caused by the tests, a giant concrete dome, known as “the Tomb,” was constructed to bury over 87,782m3 (3,100,000ft3) – or 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools – of radioactive soil and debris.
– Source: LA Times

The Runit Dome on Enewetak Atoll seen from above
The Runit Dome on Enewetak Atoll (Greg Nelson: Fair Use)

15. Ranked by land area only, the Marshall Islands is the sixth smallest sovereign state in the world.
– Source: World Bank

16. Despite its tiny land area, the Marshall Islands are scattered across over 750,000 sq miles (1,942,491 sq km) of the Pacific Ocean – an area roughly the size of Mexico.
– Source: US Department of State, World Bank

17. With a mean elevation of just two meters, the Marshall Islands has one of the world’s lowest average elevations.
– Source: CIA World Fact BookThe Telegraph

18. As such, this low-lying country is under threat from rising sea levels and climate change. The country is considering ways to adapt, including building new artificial islands and relocating the population.
– Source: National Geographic

19. The Marshall Islands are the world’s fourth most obese country. 83.5% of the adult population is classed as overweight.
– Source: World Health Organisation

20. The Marshall Islands is the world’s second least visited country after Tuvalu. The country only receives around 5,000 tourists a year.
– Source: UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

An atoll in the Marshall Islands
An atoll in the Marshall Islands (Shutterstock)

21. The Marshall Islands is home to the world’s largest shark sanctuary. Commercial fishing of sharks has been banned in 1,990,530 sq km of the country’s waters, an ocean area four times the size of California.
– Source: National Geographic

22. The capital of the Marshall Islands, Majuro, is actually an atoll made up of 64 islands.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about the Marshall Islands. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.