Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef is a triangular shaped coral reef, the vast majority of it under water, a mere 9.5 nautical miles wide from east to west and 5 nautical miles wide from north to south (a "nautical mile" is based on the circumference of the Earth, and is equal to one "minute" of latitude; land-measured miles are called "statute miles"; 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statute miles), which surely makes it too small to be counted as a country, and yet counted as a country it is - technically as "an unincorporated territory of the United States, administered by the U.S. Department of Interior".

If you have a very powerful telescope, and happen to be sailing through the North Pacific Ocean, say between Hawaii and American Samoa, you may even notice it, but only just; and you might not know which of several independent countries it is, for there are several there of equal vastlessness, making up the Northern Line Islands, or the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior, because these independent countries are in fact outposts of the USA: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Midway Islands and Palmyra Atoll being the others. They are claimed, at least by the Americans, to represent the most widespread collection of marine- and terrestrial-life protected areas on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction, a claim that several countries might dispute, except that most countries who wish to dispute things can usually find far worse things than this to waste energy on. What is certain is that the islands sustain many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere, and that very little if any of it is going to be there three generations from now, if American ecological and environmental researchers at Princeton, Duke, Stanford and Berkeley are to be believed.

Kingman Reef, which at different points in its history has been named Danger Reef, Caldew Reef, Maria Shoal and even Crane Shoal, was annexed by the USA in 1922. Its sheltered lagoon served as a way station for flying boats on Hawaii-to-American Samoa flights during the late 1930s. There are no terrestrial plants on the reef, which is frequently awash, but it does support abundant and diverse marine fauna and flora. In 2001, the waters surrounding the reef out to twelve nautical miles were designated a United States National Wildlife Refuge, so we can assume that something nuclear or military is going on in secret underneath the trees.

Marks for: 3 (the number of generations left before the entire universe becomes extinct, according to the reports linked above)

Marks against: 3 (the number of generations left before the entire universe becomes extinct, according to the reports linked above)

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