The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs, lying in the central Pacific Ocean east of the Gilbert Islands and west of the Line Islands. They are a part of the Republic of Kiribati. During the late 1930s they became the site of the last attempted colonial expansion of the British Empire (the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme). The islands and surrounding areas are home to some 120 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish. On January 28, 2008, the government of Kiribati formally declared the entire Phoenix group and surrounding waters a protected area, making its 410,500 square kilometres the world's largest marine protected area.
The group is uninhabited except for a few families on Kanton (24 people according to a recent news report). The United States unincorporated territories of Baker Island and Howland Island are often considered northerly outliers of the group, in the geographical sense. Howland and Baker are statistically grouped with the United States Minor Outlying Islands, however. The United States previously claimed all the Phoenix Islands under the Guano Islands Act. The Treaty of Tarawa released all American claims to Kiribati, excluding Baker and Howland.
At various times, the islands were considered part of the Gilbert group (once also known as "Kingsmill"). The name "Phoenix" for this group of islands seems to have been settled on in the 1840s, after an island of that name within the group. Phoenix Island was probably named after one of the many whaleships of that name plying these waters in the early 19th century.
|Phoenix Islands (Kiribati)|
|Abariringa (Canton Island)||9.0||50|
|Rawaki (Phoenix Island)||0.5||0.5|
|Manra (Sydney Island)||4.4||2.2*|
|Orona (Hull Island)||3.9||30|
|Nikumaroro (Gardner Island)||4.1||4|
|Phoenix Islands (Kiribati)||27.6||84.5|
|Submerged coral reefs|
|U.S. territories to the north|
|* The lagoon areas marked with an asterisk are contained within the island areas of the previous column because they are, unlike in the case of a typical atoll, landlocked bodies of water completely sealed off from the sea.|
The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight islands, totalling 11 square miles (28 km2) in land area, located in the central Pacific, north of Samoa. The chain comprises a portion of Kiribati. The only island of any commercial or historical importance is Kanton (or Abariringa) Island. The other islands include Enderbury, Rawaki (formerly Phoenix), Manra (formerly Sydney), Birnie, McKean, Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner), and Orona (formerly Hull).
Kanton, or Abariringa Island, is the northernmost and sole (as of 2007) inhabited island in the Phoenix group. It is a narrow ribbon of land (9 km2 in area), enclosing a lagoon of approximately 40 km2. Kanton is mostly bare coral, covered with herbs, bunch grasses, low shrubs and a few trees. Its lagoon teems with 153 known species of marine life, including sharks, tuna, stingrays and eels. Land fauna includes at least 23 bird species, lizards, rats, hermit crabs and turtles.
Once an important trans-Pacific airport and refueling station, Kanton declined in importance with the introduction of long-range jet aircraft in the late 1950s, and was eventually abandoned after serving a brief stint as a U.S. missile-tracking station. Today, the island still exhibits the remains of the airline and military presence, with 41 persons (as of 2005) residing there, most living in abandoned structures from the U.S./UK occupation (1936–1976).
Enderbury is a low, flat, small coral atoll lying ESE of Kanton. Its lagoon is rather tiny, comprising only a small percentage of the island's area. Herbs, bunchgrass, morning-glory vines and a few clumps of trees form the main vegetation on the island, while birds, rats and a species of beetle are the known fauna. Heavily mined for guano in the late 19th century, Enderbury has seen little human impact following the evacuation of the last few colonists (four in number) in 1942, during World War II.