Location of Baker Island
Map of Baker Island
Flag Description of Baker Island: The island is an American territory, and therefore uses the flag of the United States.
- 1 Background of Baker Island
- 2 Geography of Baker Island
- 3 Demography of Baker Island
- 4 Government of Baker Island
- 5 Economy of Baker Island
- 6 History of Baker Island
- 7 Transportation of Baker Island
- 8 Military of Baker Island
- 9 Transnational Issues of Baker Island
- 10 Keepers of Baker Island
- 11 Baker Island-National Wildlife Refuge
- 12 Disclaimer
Background of Baker Island
Uninhabited island, 1 sq mi (2.6 sq km), central Pacific, near the equator, c.1,650 mi (2,660 km) SW of Honolulu. The arid coral island was discovered in 1832 by Capt. Michael Baker, an American, and was claimed by the United States in 1856. Like Jarvis Island and Howland Island, Baker was worked for guano by both American and British companies during the 19th cent. In 1935 it was colonized by Americans from Hawaii in order to establish U.S. control against British claims. The colonists were removed during World War II. Baker Island is administered under the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
The US took possession of the island in 1857, and its guano deposits were mined by US and British companies during the second half of the 19th century. In 1935, a short-lived attempt at colonization was begun on this island - as well as on nearby Howland Island - but was disrupted by World War II and thereafter abandoned. Presently the island is a National Wildlife Refuge run by the US Department of the Interior; a day beacon is situated near the middle of the west coast.
Baker Island, formerly New Nantucket Island or Phoebe Island, unincorporated territory of the United States in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,650 miles (2,650 km) southwest of Honolulu. A coral atoll rising to 25 feet (8 metres), it measures 1 mile (1.6 km) long by 0.7 mile (1.1 km) wide and has a land area of about 0.6 square mile (1.5 square km). The reef-fringed island is visited by more than a dozen species of seabirds and shorebirds, as well as threatened and endangered sea turtles, and is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1825 Capt. Obed Starbuck of the American whaling ship Loper recorded sighting the island. In 1832 it was sighted by another American mariner, Capt. Michael Baker. The United States claimed it (1857) along with nearby Howland Island under the Guano Act of 1856, but its guano deposits were exhausted by 1891. In the 1930s, rising interest in transpacific aviation prompted the United States to strengthen its claim on Baker by colonizing it from Hawaii. In 1936 it came under the administration of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Evacuated in early 1942 during World War II, the island was reoccupied by Allied forces in late 1943, and an air base was built. The island is now uninhabited except for periodic visits by scientists and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under whose jurisdiction it has been since 1974. In 2009 Baker Island was designated part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Baker Island, formerly New Nantucket Island or Phoebe Island, unincorporated territory of the United States in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,650 miles (2,650 km) southwest of Honolulu. --->read on
Geography of Baker Island
- Location: Oceania, atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawaii and Australia
- Geographic coordinates: 0 13 N, 176 31 W
- total: 1.4 sq km
- land: 1.4 sq km
- water: 0 sq km
- Area - comparative: about
- Land boundaries: 0 km
- Coastline: 4.8 km
- Maritime claims:
- territorial sea: 12 nm
- exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
- Climate: equatorial; scant rainfall, constant wind, burning sun
- Terrain: low, nearly level coral island surrounded by a narrow fringing reef
- Elevation extremes:
- lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
- highest point: unnamed location 8 m
- Natural resources: guano (deposits worked until 1891), terrestrial and aquatic wildlife
- Land use:
- arable land: 0%
- permanent crops: 0%
- other: 100% (2001)
- Irrigated land: 0 sq km (1998 est.)
- Natural hazards: the narrow fringing reef surrounding the island can be a maritime hazard
- Environment - current issues: no natural fresh water resources
- Geography - note: treeless, sparse, and scattered vegetation consisting of grasses, prostrate vines, and low growing shrubs; primarily a nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for seabirds, shorebirds, and marine wildlife
Demography of Baker Island
- Population: uninhabited
note: American civilians evacuated in 1942 after Japanese air and naval attacks during World War II; occupied by US military during World War II, but abandoned after the war; public entry is by special-use permit from US Fish and Wildlife Service only and generally restricted to scientists and educators; a cemetery and remnants of structures from early settlement are located near the middle of the west coast; visited annually by US Fish and Wildlife Service (2005 est.)
Government of Baker Island
- Country name:
- conventional long form: none
- conventional short form: Baker Island
(Dependency status: unincorporated territory of the US; administered from Washington, DC, by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system
- Legal system: the laws of the US, where applicable, apply
Economy of Baker Island
- Economy - overview: no economic activity
History of Baker Island
in 1818 Baker was discovered by Captain Elisha Folger of the Nantucket whaling ship Equator, who called the island "New Nantucket". In August 1825 Baker was sighted by Captain Obed Starbuck of the Loper, also a Nantucket whaler. The island is named for Michael Baker, who visited the island in 1834. Other references state that he visited in 1832, and again on August 14, 1839, in the whaler Gideon Howland, to bury an American seaman. Captain Baker claimed the island and in 1855, then he sold his interest to a group who later formed the American Guano Company.
The United States took possession of the island in 1857, claiming it under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Its guano deposits were mined by the American Guano Company from 1859 to 1878. On 7 December 1886, it sold all its rights to the British firm John T. Arundel and Company, which made the island its headquarters for guano digging operations in the Pacific from 1886 to 1891. Arundel applied in 1897 to the British Colonial Office for a licence to work the island on the persumption that the USA had abandoned their claim. The United Kingdom then considered Baker Island as a British territory, while never formally annexing it. The United States raised the question at the beginning of the 1920s. After some diplomatic exchanges, they launched in 1935 the Baker, Howland and Jarvis Colonization Scheme and issued on May 1936 Executive Order 7358 to clarify their sovereignty.
This short-lived attempt at colonization begun when American colonists arrived aboard the USCGC Itasca, the same vessel that brought colonists to neighboring Howland Island, on April 3, 1935. They built a lighthouse, substantial dwellings, and they attempted to grow various plants. The settlement was named Meyerton after Captain H.A. Meyer of the United States Army, who helped establish the camps in 1935. One sad-looking clump of coconut palms was jokingly called King-Doyle Park after two well-known citizens of Hawaii who visited on the Taney in 1938. This clump was the best on the island, planted near a water seep, but the dry climate and seabirds, eager for anything upon which to perch, did not give the trees or shrubs much of a chance to survive. King-Doyle Park was later adopted as a geographic name by the USGS. Its population was four American civilians, all of whom evacuated in 1942 after Japanese air and naval attacks. it was occupied by the U.S. military During World War II .
Transportation of Baker Island
- Ports and harbors:
none; offshore anchorage only; note - there is one small boat landing area along the middle of the west coast
- Airports: 1 abandoned World War II runway of 1,665 m, completely covered with vegetation and unusable (2004 est.)
- Transportation - note: there is a day beacon near the middle of the west coast
Military of Baker Island
- Military - note:
defense is the responsibility of the US; visited annually by the US Coast Guard
Transnational Issues of Baker Island
- Disputes - international:
Keepers of Baker Island
The History of Baker Island
The story of Baker Island represents that of many islands and coastal settlements. Rugged topography and climate demanded perseverance and resourcefulness of its citizens. While maritime travel was more efficient in many ways than by land, it posed hazards and challenges of its own. Changing political landscape, and technological advances affected remote communities. Understanding and reflecting on the story of Baker Island may shed light on broader aspects of regional history, place and community.
William and Hannah Lurvey Gilley settled the island in about 1806, with two or three children; by 1826 their family grew to six sons and six daughters. The Gilleys survived as did many seafaring farmers of the time: eating birds, fish, wild and cultivated foods. Island livestock included sheep, hogs, cattle and poultry. Markets in New York and Boston bought cobblestones, feathers, and smoked herring, while butter and eggs were sold in SW Harbor.
- Growing Family
As the Gilley offspring married, some left the island, but two sons--Elisha and Joseph-- remained on Baker. Each took a bride (Hannah and Adeline, respectively), and a combined 13 Gilley grandchildren were raised, four of whom stayed (two as bachelors; two with families of their own). By 1840 there were three households, and throughout the 19th century the population hovered around 20 in 3 or 4 households. After 1900, the population declined; the last of the Gilleys moved away or died by 1930.
In 1828, the U.S. Lighthouse Service built a lighthouse and keeper’s house, at a cost of $3,798.26. William Gilley was appointed as the first keeper[the foundation of this first keeper's house is at the base of the rise to the current house], but was replaced in 1848 because, it is said, he refused to join the Whig Party in office. He moved to Duck Island to raise sheep; hard feelings may have remained with their offspring. The subsequent keepers were not graciously welcomed by the Gilleys. In 1853, "the Secretary of the Treasury directed that legal steps be taken to eject the trespassers." The attempts of the USLS to have the Gilleys removed from Baker Island were unsuccessful. An agreement was struck giving the Government right of way from the landing up to the lighthouse, and set aside 19 acres for the lighthouse complex. In 1855, the current lighthouse and keeper’s house were built. The Gilleys were challenged once again in 1898, but prevailed in a Portland court. The Attorney General ruled that "It would be unfair and oppressive...to assert the paramount title of the Government against the few poor and hardy fishermen living there; and if the United States has and intends to allow them to take peaceable possession of these scant and sterile lands, I can see no earthly objection to allowing the town of Cranberry Isles to build a school house for the proper education of their youth."
Other government installations over the years have included a signal tower, possibly manned during the Spanish American War. During WWII, a watch tower was erected in 1942 at about the same site. The Coast Guard maintains the light, but in 2011 transferred ownership of the tower to the National Park Service, which owns all but the two red buildings.
The latter half of the 20th century has seen encroachment of dense spruce forest such that the value of the light has been questioned as an Aid to Navigation. Suggestions of decommissioning in 1991 and 1997 elicited resounding protests, evidence of the place Baker Island holds in the hearts of many, and its continued value as an ATN.
- New Era of Stewardship
Keepers of Baker Island is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation formed to support the Park Service with its continued management of this precious resource. Drawing on a wide base of support from visitors, local organizations, residents, and the Park itself, KOBI hopes to facilitate the care and upkeep of Baker’s natural and cultural landscape, and honor the history of the many seafaring agrarian settlers of the past.
Baker Island-National Wildlife Refuge
Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles north of the equator and 1,600 miles southwest of Honolulu, is a nearly level saucer-shaped 405-acre island surrounded by a narrow reef and 30,504 acres of submerged land. Most of the refuge is marine habitat, including extensive coral reefs and other inshore tropical ocean habitats. Uninhabited, it is low, flat, sandy, and vegetated only by grasses, prostrate vines, and low-growing shrubs due to the scant rainfall and intense sun.
Hundreds of thousands of seabirds breed at Baker. The refuge provides nesting and roosting habitat for about 20 species of seabirds and shorebirds. The most numerous breeding seabird species are the lesser frigatebird, brown noddy, and sooty tern. Of all shorebirds reported on Baker, the ruddy turnstone, bar-tailed godwit, sanderling, bristle-thighed curlew, and Pacific golden plover are considered species of High Concern in the national conseration priority scheme for shorebirds. The islands provide crucial wintering habitat and may also serve as rest stops for arctic-breeding shorebirds that winter farther south.
Threatened green turtles and endangered hawksbill turtles forage in the shallow waters of the reef with hundreds of species of fish, corals, and other invertebrates.
Visitation is by special use permit only. The refuge is part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, whose office is in Honolulu.
Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
The threatened honu is one of seven species of sea turtles found throughout the world. An adult honu carapace (top of shell) can measure more than three feet (one meter) in straight carapace length, and weigh 220 pounds (100 kilograms). This species has a smooth carapace with four pairs of lateral scutes (plates), a single pair of prefrontal scales, and a lower jaw-edge that is coarsely serrated, corresponding to strong grooves and ridges on the inner surface of the upper jaw.
Honu - Photo credit Sandra Hall/USFWS The term "green" applies not to the external coloration, but to the color of the turtle's subdermal fat. The carapace of adult honu is light to dark brown, sometimes shaded with olive, with radiating wavy or mottled markings of a darker color or with large blotches of dark brown.
- Habitat & Behavior:
The honu is found world wide in warm seas. In the Pacific United States and its territories, honu are found along the coasts of Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, unincorporated U.S. island possessions, and a small resident group in San Diego Bay, California. Individuals may occasionally be found as far north as Alaska.
The honu occupies three habitat types: open beaches, open sea, and feeding grounds in shallow, protected waters. Upon hatching, the young turtles crawl from the beach to the open ocean. When their shells grow 8-10 inches long, they move to shallow feeding grounds in lagoons, bays, and estuaries. They graze in pastures of sea grasses or algae but may also feed over coral reefs and rocky bottoms. Young honu are omnivorous (eating both animal and plant matter), adults are vegetarians. Growth rates seem to vary depending on where the turtles live.
In Hawai‘i, nesting occurs throughout the Hawaiian archipelago, but over 90 percent occurs at the French Frigate Shoals in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Approximately 200-700 females are estimated to nest annually. Lower level nesting occurs in American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Midway Atoll, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, and Pearl and Hermes Reef.
- Past & Present:
Honu and their eggs were once a food source for native Pacific Islanders. The meat, viscera, and eggs supplied a nutritious and succulent alternative to the more common food sources, such as fish, birds, shellfish, coconuts, breadfruit, and taro. The adult female turtles were especially prized due to their large quantities of fat. The utilization of honu for food and other purposes was often under strict control, usually from some form of island council or tribal chief.
Religious, ceremonial, and other traditional restrictions on the capture, killing, distribution, and consumption of honu played an important role in their utilization. For example, in the Hawaiian Islands there were families that considered the honu to be a personal family deity or "aumakua." Artistic elements of honu have also been featured prominently in some cultures of the Pacific, such as in petroglyphs and tattoo designs.
Honu populations have declined dramatically in the Pacific islands. Overharvest of turtles and eggs by humans is by far the most serious problem. Other threats include habitat loss, capture in fishing nets, boat collisions, and a disease known as fibropapillomatosis. While this species is declining throughout most of the Pacific, in the Hawaiian Islands, honu are demonstrating some encouraging signs of population recovery after 17 years of protective efforts.
- Conservation Efforts:
Honu are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act throughout all areas under U.S. jurisdiction. In the Pacific, the ESA applies to Hawai‘i, Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, and the eight unincorporated U.S. islands (Midway, Wake, Johnston, Palmyra, Kingman, Jarvis, Howland, and Baker). Inclusion of Green Sea Turtles into the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has made it illegal to trade any products made from this species in the U.S. and 130 other countries. The final Recovery Plans for this species was completed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and serve as guidance in actions to recover honu.
Endangered Species in the Pacific Islands
The endangered hawksbill turtle is one of seven species of sea turtles found throughout the world. One of the smaller sea turtles, it has overlapping scutes (plates) that are thicker than those of other sea turtles. This protects them from being battered against sharp coral and rocks during storm events.
Adults range in size from 25 to 36 inches (0.8-1.0 meters) carapace length, and weigh 100 to 200 pounds (45-90 kilograms). Its carapace (upper shell) is an attractive dark brown with faint yellow streaks and blotches and a yellow plastron (under shell). The name "hawksbill" refers to the turtle's prominent hooked beak.
- Habitat & Behavior:
The hawksbill turtle is found in warm tropical waters worldwide. In the Pacific United States, hawksbill sea turtles are found along the coasts of Hawai‘i, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The hawksbill turtle is a shy tropical reef dwelling species that feeds on jellyfish, sea urchins, and their favorite food sea sponges. It may also eat algae that grows on the reef. The hawksbill turtle takes in ocean water while feeding, but gets rid of the extra salt by shedding big salty tears. It is a swift and graceful swimmer, reaching speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
In Hawai‘i, nesting currently occurs on the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, and O‘ahu. Not all of the presently known nesting beaches in Hawai‘i have nesting each year. The coastline of Kau on Hawai‘i and a black sand beach at the river mouth of Halawa Valley on Moloka`i are the most consistently used nesting beaches.
- Past & Present:
Hawksbill turtles have served a wide range of important functions to Pacific Islanders. The shell of this species has been described as the "world's first plastic" and has served a wide variety of ornamental and practical uses. The bones were fashioned to make tools. Various body parts were used to make medicine. The flesh and eggs provided food.
Hawksbill turtles populations have declined dramatically in the Pacific islands. Illegal international trade of items made from this species is one of the worst threats to its survival. Since 1970, more than one million hawksbill turtles have been killed for their shells. Many products are made from the shell's scutes, which have a beautiful pattern often described as "tortoise shell." These include combs, brushes, cigarette boxes, jewelry, hair ornaments, and other types of accessories. Sometimes young turtles are killed, then stuffed by a taxidermist, and used as decoration. Other threats to the continued existence of this species include beach erosion and coastal construction.
- Conservation Efforts:
Hawksbill turtles are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act throughout all areas under U.S. jurisdiction. In the Pacific, the ESA applies to Hawai‘i, Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, and the eight unincorporated U.S. islands (Midway, Wake, Johnston, Palmyra, Kingman, Jarvis, Howland, and Baker).
Inclusion of hawksbill turtles into the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has made it illegal to trade any products made from this species in the U.S. and 130 other countries. The final Recovery Plans for this species serves as guidance in actions to recover hawksbill sea turtle populations.
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